In many countries, eating insects is no big deal. Here in Australia, First Nations people have been hoeing into witchetty grubs, bogong moths, green ants and other wriggly species for millennia. But, for most of us, it’s hard to overcome the eewww factor. Despite this, some enterprising folks decided that insect protein was the food of the future and the country’s first edible insect farm was established in western Sydney in 2007 by food scientist and entomologist, Skye Blackburn. Originally called the Edible Bug Shop, the business now goes by the less confronting name of Circle Harvest.
The “livestock” of the insect farm are crickets which are fed on recycled fruit and vegetables that would otherwise go to landfill. Circle Harvest also offers mealworms and ants for human consumption. As well as presenting the insects in their recognisable form (saltbush and rosemary mealworms or chilli and garlic crickets anyone?) they process the bugs into powders which are incorporated in other products like pasta, corn chips and candy. The Circle Harvest website even has a recipe for cricket choc-chip cookies.
Other producers followed and in 2017 the Insect Protein Association of Australia was formed. Not all members of the association produce food for humans, with insect protein widely used in animal feeds and some insect farms focusing on waste processing. However, with the world population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, there’s a feeling that insects are likely to play an increasing part in our diet.
In April 2021, the CSIRO produced a report: Edible Insects: A roadmap for the strategic growth of an emerging Australian industry. Introducing the report’s executive summary, they wrote:
Current food systems cannot meet the global challenge of producing enough nutritious, high-protein food for the world’s growing population… Diversifying global food supply chains will be essential to building more resilient food systems capable of withstanding increased disruptions caused by climate change, environmental damage, and emerging diseases.
The report identified priorities within the industry to strengthen First Nations culture, achieve sustainability, promote a healthier diet, and forge new partnerships among First Nations peoples and the research, industry, and government sectors to advance knowledge, procedures and policies and strengthen the industry. It pointed out that in terms of land use, greenhouse gas emissions, feed and water requirements, and the amount of protein produced in proportion to food consumed, insects are streets ahead of red meat and chicken.
In 2023, AgriFutures Australia released a new five-year plan to accelerate the growth of the industry, claiming Australia was lagging behind the rest of the world. They estimated the market could be worth $10 million a year to Australian farmers by 2028. Perhaps by then, we’ll be coming around to the idea of crunching on a cricket or munching on a mealworm. Or maybe not.