Edible insects business booming and experts predict a big export future
Whether it be energy bars made from ground crickets or gourmet worms at high-end restaurants, demand for edible insects is on the rise in Australia, according to people in the industry.
- Entomologist Bryan Lessard says Australia is well-placed to be a major insect exporter
- CSIRO scientist Jane Bowen says insects are suitable for feeding malnourished populations
- She says they could also be perfect for feeding a human colony on Mars
While the thought of eating bugs might make some shudder, Louise Morris from the Insect Protein Association of Australia said curiosity was on the rise and farmers were run off their feet.
“In the past two years, interest has increased exponentially,” Ms Morris said.
She is a cricket and mealworm farmer in Tasmania, and insists business is good.
“We’re actually now in a situation where there’s months, especially around food festivals, where it’s a struggle to keep up with demand.”
Entomologist Dr Bryan Lessard said Australia had the potential to become a major player in a lucrative international market.
He said insects were efficient to farm, packed with protein and good for the planet.
“The United Nations estimates the global edible insect market will be worth $8 billion in 10 years’ time and there’s a real opportunity for Australia,” he said.
“[Insects] have small environmental footprint — they can be grown in factories, requiring less lands and less water than conventional protein.”
Australia has 60 native edible species available but so only introduced species are allowed to be commercially farmed.
Dr Lessard said work was underway to expand the burgeoning industry and work out which native insects would be most suitable for a domestic and global audience.
“We’re also trying to discover new species that we might not have known we could eat and maybe commercialising those as well,” he said.
Demand for produce is particularly strong in Asia, where insects are already a diet staple.
The superfood of the future?
Some producers have made insect products more palatable by turning dried crickets into protein powders and energy bars.
“Most of our customers are people who are into health, but also environmentally conscious people who care about … the footprint they leave on our planet,” vendor Lucas Becker said.
CSIRO nutrition scientist Jane Bowen said insects were nutrient-dense and suitable for feeding malnourished populations.
“Could these be a superfood? I’d say they could,” she said.
“What’s really exciting is, from a global perspective, we know in the future we’re going to have challenges around providing enough protein and also energy and other nutrients.
“Insects could be a really valuable form of food to feed the world and maybe even feed the people living on Mars one day.”
Enough, perhaps, to help a Martian work, rest and play.
mmm Mars Bar – Mick Raven