In the guide below, we discuss whether eating insects and bugs is sustainable and eco friendly, as well as whether it’s healthy, nutritious and safe in various ways.
(Note – the information in this guide is general information only. It is not professional advice, or a substitute for professional advice. See a suitably qualified expert for professional advice on matters such as health and nutrition)
Summary – Is Eating Insects & Bugs Sustainable, Eco Friendly, & Healthy?
Below is a generalized summary of each section of this guide.
Read the full guide below for more in-depth information and more specific answers relating to each area or indicator discussed.
Sustainability & Eco Friendliness – Potential Benefits
– Greenhouse Gas Emissions
In general, insect production may produce far less greenhouse gas emissions than livestock
– Resource Use & Resource Efficiency
In general, insects may use less resources than
Across several measurements of land, water and feed usage, insects use less of these resources than the main types of animal meat
Total resource use, and the efficiency of resource use (of agricultural inputs)
– Potential To Increase Efficiency & Yields In The Future
One report indicates that there may be potential to increase both the efficiency and yield of insect farming in the future.
This may have a range of benefits, with increased resource efficiency being one potential benefit.
– Insects Directly Converting Feed To Protein
Some reports indicate that insects may convert feed to protein more efficiently than some types of livestock.
– Using Insects Themselves As Feed For Livestock
There may be general environmental benefits of using insects as feed for livestock, as well as a potential decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to using other traditional forms of livestock feed.
– Waste Generated
In general, insects may produce less waste than livestock
– Land Degradation
Insect farming may not damage or degrade the land and soil as much as some types of traditional farming, and traditional farming practices
Insect farming in some regions may reduce the amount of forest that is cleared for new agricultural operations
– Circular Agriculture & Circular Production
There’s multiple ways that insect production might be a circular business model, which we list in the guide below
Sustainability & Eco Friendliness – Potential Drawbacks
– Energy Use
In some instances, insect production may use more energy than livestock, with some of this related to heating requirements
– Using Insects As Feed & Supporting An Existing Agricultural System
When insects are used as feed for livestock, they may help support an existing agricultural system (and food system) with sustainability and environmental problems
Sustainability & Eco Friendliness – Other Factors To Consider
Other insect production/farming factors like the type of insect being farmed, yields, productivity, etc. may also impact sustainability and eco friendliness
Health & Nutrition
– Different Insects Types, & Insect Food Products Have Different Nutritional Profiles
Different types and species of whole insects can have nutritional profiles
So, this is important when considering the type and amount of protein and other nutrients an insect might have
Different processed insect food products have different nutrients in them too.
– Insect Protein As One Source Protein
Insect protein might be considered a different protein source to both animal protein, and also plant protein
– Are Insect Proteins Complete Proteins?
Some reports indicate that certain insects have complete proteins
– Are Insect Proteins Different To Other Protein Sources?
Some reports indicate the nutritional difference between sources of proteins might be small
– Protein Content In Insects
Some reports indicate that some insects have a high protein content
– Amount Of Protein In Insects Compared To Other Protein Sources
Some reports indicate that insects have the same amount of protein per similar serving size, whilst other reports indicate the amount of protein varies
– Specific Insects With High Amounts Of Protein
Grasshoppers and crickets are mentioned by several reports as being protein dense
– Nutrients Other Than Protein In Insects
Several reports indicate that insects in general either contain good nutrients, or are nutrient efficient
For example, some insects may have higher sources of minerals than beef according to one report
In the guide below, the nutrition in crickets, locusts, and other insects are discussed
Some reports indicate that some insects like crickets contain less calories and fat than a meat like beef
– Anti Nutrients
Some reports indicate that some insects may contain some ‘anti nutritional’ factors
Food Safety, & Regulations
– Potential Safety Concerns
We list different potential concerns in eating insects as biological, chemical, physical, and allergy concerns
– Safety Tips For Eating Insects
Some reports list safety tips for eating edible insects, and we reference one report below
Different countries have regulations in place for the production and human consumption of insects
We give an example of the regulation of insects as food in the US in the guide below
Other Considerations For Eating Insects & Bugs
In addition to the sustainability and health considerations discussed in this guide, there may also be consideration for whether insects will practically become part of more people’s diets in the future, as well as the general pros and cons of eating insects.
Is Eating Insects & Bugs Sustainable & Good For The Environment?
We list both the potential benefits & drawbacks of eating insects and bugs across various sustainability and environmental indicators below.
Potential Sustainability & Environmental Benefits
The Production/Farming Of Insects May Produce Less Greenhouse Gas Emissions Than Various Types Of Livestock
We’ve previously outlined how much greenhouse gases come from traditional agriculture, and where those greenhouse gases come from (especially from livestock, some types of crops, fertilizers, and so on)
What the data below might suggest is that insect production produces significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than various types of livestock – some estimates put this estimate at as little as 0.1% to 1%
It may depend on the individual type of livestock.
… [insect production has a smaller carbon footprint] than animal livestock (weforum.org)
Insect farming and processing produces significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions [than livestock] (time.com)
From washingtonpost.com: ‘Insect farming produces 1 percent of the greenhouses gasses as the same amount of cattle or pigs [according to one report]’
… crickets emit less than 0.1% of the greenhouse emissions of cows to produce the same amount of protein (theguardian.com)
news.mongabay.com has a graphic that shows greenhouse gas emissions per kg of beef, pork and insects
Insects have the least, followed by pork, with beef having the most
eatcrickster.com has a graphic that shows that crickets emit only 1g of greenhouse gas emissions per kg of protein, with pork, chicken and beef all emitting more
eatcrickster.com also indicates that separate to CO2, ‘… raising insects produces between 10 and 80 times less methane gas than [raising cattle does, and] 8-12 time less ammonia’
Insect Farming & Production May Use Less Resources, Or Use Resources More Efficiently, Than Both Livestock & Crop Farming
Several reports indicate that insects use less resources in general than livestock or animal meat.
In terms of water alone, crickets may use less water per gram of protein produced than both beef and chickpeas
In terms of land alone, crickets may use less arable land than chicken, pork and beef per kg of protein produced
In terms of land, water and feed as a collective, insects may in general use less of these resources than various types of animal meat
Resources we haven’t got information on are fuel, as well as human labor.
– Resources In General
… [insect] production uses considerably less resources (less land, less feed, less water, less transport fuel and less human labor) than animal livestock (weforum.org)
Crickets, mealworms and grasshoppers … take far fewer resources to produce than animal meat (washingtonpost.com)
[Crickets …] require vastly less water [than cows …]: it takes 112 litres of water to produce a single gram of beef but less than 23 litres for a gram of insect protein. (Insects also comfortably beat chickpeas in this regard.) (theguardian.com)
eatcrickster.com also has a graphic that shows the amount of arable land needed to produce feed per 1kg of protein for crickets, chickens, pork and beef
Insects require 3 x times less feed and arable land than chickens and pork, and 13 times less than beef
Currently, around 33% of cropland worldwide is used to feed livestock [so, insects using land more efficiently may be a notable improvement] (theguardian.com)
– Land, Water & Feed
Grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms … [on a] … pound for pound [basis] require less land, water and feed than traditional livestock (time.com)
news.mongabay.com has a graphic that shows feed, water and land required per kg or gram of beef, pork, chicken and insects
Insects require less feed, water and land than all three of beef, pork, and chicken
eatcrickster.com has a graphic that shows the amount of water and feed that crickets, mealworms, chickens, pork and beef need per kg of meat
Crickets and mealworms both rate on the lower end of the scale (i.e. need less feed and water – certainly less than beef)
May Be Potential To Further Increase Efficiency, & Also Maximize Yields Of Insect Farming In The Future
Future developments, implementation of technology, and changes to insect farming in the future could increase both the efficiency and yields insect farming.
This may mean greater resource efficiency, along with a range of other benefits that come with better efficiency and yields.
theguardian.com mentions that:
… hi-tech, robot-operated vertical facilities devoted to maximising protein yield [may be used in the future for insect farming]
Insect life cycles are also highly conducive to factory farming: at certain stages of their lives they produce heat and at other stages they need heat, so an indoor farm can be more efficient than an outdoor farm in a warmer climate
[Insects can be farmed] intensively without compromising their welfare
Insects May Convert Feed To Protein More Efficiently Than Some Livestock
Some reports indicate that insects may convert feed to protein more efficiently that some types of livestock.
What this means is that resources and agricultural inputs are used more efficiently, and there’s the same or a greater production of food and protein.
Specifically Using Insects As Feed For Animals & Livestock May Have It’s Own Environmental Benefits
Insects can be used as feed for animals and livestock instead of plants and crops (such as corn, pasture grasses, legumes, and so on)
Some reports indicate that about 45 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in animal production is due to the feed production for the animals to consume. Using insects as feed instead of plants and crops may reduce this %
There may also be ‘general environmental or sustainability benefits’ to using insects as feed, such as increased efficiency
… a chicken’s natural diet before domestication included insects … Instead of growing corn for animal feed, we could raise chickens and other animals on insect protein. The result is a chicken that tastes the same with an improved environmental impact …
Insects … make a far more efficient feed [than other types of feed] (theguardian.com)
Insects Produce Less Waste Than Livestock
Insects may produce less waste than livestock according to one reports.
It’s unclear what exactly this waste is, but one example might be animal manure.
… insects produce less waste [than livestock] (time.com)
Insect Farming May Not Damage Land As Much As Some Other Types Of Farming
Some types of traditional agriculture may degrade the land in various ways, with overgrazing from livestock leading to erosion, and agricultural practices like intensive tilling also leading to general topsoil erosion, just as two examples.
Insect farming may be less destructive to the land and soil.
[Insects] don’t destroy land … (theguardian.com)
Insect Farming May In Some Instances Reduce Deforestation
The establishment of new insect farms instead of new livestock or crop based farming operations may reduce deforestation in some regions.
time.com provides an example of this, whereby (paraphrased) in Madagascar, locals being able to collect or farm insects may reduce the clearing of trees for new livestock operations
Insect Farming May Involve More Circular Agriculture, Which Has It’s Own Potential Benefits
Insect production can be a circular business model for several reasons:
Insects can be fed on organic material and organic waste from certain industries (such as the food and beverage industries), with this waste also being kept out of landfills, which in turn can decrease emissions such as methane. This is potentially significant because of the amount of emissions that some reports say landfills are responsible for. There’s also an economic benefit of adding value to industrial processes that produce suitable organic material or waste
Insect excrement can also be used as a fertilizer
weforum.org provides an example of the scenario:
… [Circular agriculture can involve] Insects feeding on organic materials [like] spent grains from brewery operations [, which can prevent] additional waste from going into landfills [, thereby reducing methane emissions,] and [also providing] added value to the brewery and feed for the insects
Using insects as inputs for another function closes the cycle [and contributes to a circular value chain] …
[Insects may be a] sustainable business model [as] they can … be fed on waste and their “frass” (excrement) can be used as fertiliser
‘[Insects can be grown] on by-products of the food industry …
[Insect] excrement, called frass, is an excellent fertilizer and soil amender (time.com)
Potential Sustainability & Environmental Drawbacks
Insect Production May Use More Energy Than Some Other Food Sources
eatcrickster.com has a graphic that shows energy used per kg of protein, for insects, pork, chicken and beef
Because insects are cold blooded, they may in some instances use more energy than other animals for heating
Insects As Feed For Livestock May Propagate Or Support An Existing Agricultural System/Food System With Problems
Using insects as feed for livestock may propagate or support several issues in the current food systems, such as adding steps to the food conversion process, and also what some say is an overconsumption of meat.
We might waste less resources, or at least use resources more efficiently by eating insects directly for example.
… using insects for livestock feed could end up serving to prop up a dysfunctional and wasteful food system … especially where it comes to replacing unsustainable fishmeal …
… but it’s not actually attacking the problem itself …
[One problem is …] our … overconsumption of meat
[Another problem is that it’s inefficient and wasteful …] to feed the by-products of plant-based farming to insects which are then fed into an animal-based farming system. The more extra steps you have in the food chain, the more energy and food you’re wasting. It’s always more efficient and sustainable to take a step out …
More Information On The Farming Of Insects & Bugs
washingtonpost.com provides more information on the yield, life cycle and harvesting of crickets at a Canadian bug farm
wikipedia.org provides more information on the factors and variables to consider with insect farming, some of which are general, and some of which are specific to individual insect species
time.com also provides information on the square feet of a cricket farm in Madagascar, and the expected powder and cricket meal production from that farms
Is Eating Insects & Bugs Healthy Or Nutritious?
Different Types Of Insects & Bugs, & Different Individual Insect Food Products Can Have Different Nutritional Profiles
For whole insects, it’s important to point out that different types of insects and bugs can have different nutritional profiles.
Other factors like the age of the insect or bug can impact the nutrition of whole insects too.
Crickets and mealworms are listed below as being protein dense for example
Different processed food products that include insect ingredients also have different nutritional profiles (which can be found on the standard nutritional analysis on the product packaging)
Some even argue that some processed insect food products mainly include processed ingredients, and therefore may not be as healthy as whole insects.
weforum.org mentions that:
… not all insect protein is created equal. For instance, crickets, certain ant species and mealworms are known to be protein and calorie dense stars in the insect-consumption world …
Crickets, mealworms and grasshoppers [are specific insects that] pack a lot of protein and minerals … (washingtonpost.com)
Some general information about the potential nutrition and healthiness of edible insects and bugs though might include …
– The Different Sources Of Protein
Insect protein is usually compared to our primary sources of protein from animals and plants (in foods like meat, dairy, eggs, tofu, beans and nuts)
– Measureables Of Protein To Look For In Different Sources Of Protein
Some of the indicators to look for in different sources of protein might be:
The amount of protein (in grams for example) in different protein sources (although, some insects are more protein dense than others)
The protein profile, such as the amount and types of amino acids
– Are Insect Proteins Complete Proteins?
One report indicates crickets are
Insects such as crickets are a complete protein … (wikipedia.org)
– Is Insect Protein Different To Other Sources Of Protein (Animal & Plant Protein)
Some reports indicate that there are differences between these different proteins, but the difference might be small.
… the nutritional difference between sources of protein is relatively small. For instance, plant proteins lack some essential amino acids that animal proteins possess, but the major differences between insect and other sources of protein exist largely in the cultural and environmental realm …
– How Much Protein Is In Insects?
Different reports indicate the protein content varies
From time.com: Insects are 60% dry weight protein
The protein content of an insect is 20-76% of dry matter, depending on the insect’s type and development stage (eatcrickster.com)
– Amount Of Protein In Insect Protein Sources Compared To Other Protein Sources
The amount of protein in insects might vary according to different reports, but generally, insects might have a similar amount of protein compared to other protein sources in some instances
A recent study showed that insects offer between 9.96 and 35.2 grams of protein per 100 grams, compared with between 16.8 and 20.6 grams for meat (weforum.org)
Insects such as crickets [contain an amount of protein] comparable with that from soybeans, though less than in casein (found in foods such as cheese) (wikipedia.org)
news.mongabay.com has a graphic that shows insect protein compared to protein in animal meat
eatcrickster.com indicates that ‘… 100 grams of beef yields around the same amount of protein as crickets’
– Types Of Insects With High Protein
Grasshoppers and crickets are mentioned by several reports as being protein dense
Grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms [specifically] are rich in protein … (time.com)
… one 3.5 ounce portion of grasshopper typically contains between 14 and 28 grams of protein [and …] this translates to 25-60% of [someone’s] recommended daily allowance …
[eatcrickster.com also mentions how red ants, crickets, beetles and caterpillars may be similarly good sources of protein]
– Nutrition In General
Different reports indicate that both whole insects, and also food products with insect ingredients have good nutrients in them.
[Insects are] full of nutrients … (theguardian.com)
… Entomilk [in a dairy alternative mad from insects] which is made from black soldier fly larvae (“BSFL” in industry parlance) which are rich in fats and minerals, including calcium … (theguardian.com)
– Nutrition Compared To Meat
Insects may compare favorably to some meats in terms of the nutrients they offer
Insects are nutrient-efficient compared to other meat sources (wikipedia.org)
news.mongabay.com has a graphic that shows insect nutrition compared to beef, pork and chicken nutrition
Measured in per 100g portions, they show protein, iron and saturated fat of each
Insects have similar protein, more iron, and generally less saturated fat
Although, the graphic doesn’t specify the type of protein, or the type/species of insect
– Nutrition In Crickets Specifically
[Crickets] have dietary fiber and include mostly unsaturated fat and contain some vitamins, such as vitamin B12, riboflavin and vitamin A, and essential minerals. (wikipedia.org)
‘… crickets [are] healthy [and] high in protein, iron and vitamin B-12’ (time.com)
– Nutrition Of Crickets vs Beef
Crickets are also very efficient in terms of nutrients. For every 100 grams of substance crickets contain 12.9 grams of protein, 121 calories, and 5.5 grams of fat. Beef contains more protein containing 23.5 grams in 100 grams of substance, but also has roughly triple the calories and four times the amount of fat as crickets do in 100 grams (wikipedia.org)
– Nutrition In Some Cricket Powders
[Cricket meal and cricket powder is] protein-packed [and] fiber-rich … (time.com)
– Nutrition In Locusts
wikipedia.org identifies the iron in locusts compared to meat
– General Nutrition In Other Insects
wikipedia.org also has a table showing the energy, fat, carbs, protein and salt per 100g of mealworms, buffalo worms, house crickets and migratory locusts
eatcrickster.com mentions that (paraphrased) red ants, crickets, beetles and caterpillars may all be a good source of iron
– Nutrition In Other Insects Compared To Beef
There’s some insects that may have higher sources of minerals than beef
Grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms … contain significantly higher sources of minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium than beef (time.com)
Various reports online, such as one referenced by researchgate.net, and others, mention that some insects may contain ‘anti nutritional’ factors (and they list the individual ANF’s in their reports)
Some of these anti nutrients may be found in the exoskeleton of an insect
Is Eating Bugs & Insects Safe?
Potential Safety Concerns
Potential health or food safety concerns with insects, paraphrased from canr.msu.edu, might include:
– Biological Concerns
Bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi may be found in some insects
– Chemical Concerns
Pesticides, toxic metals and dioxins may all be chemical contamination concerns with some insects
– Physical Concerns
The shape, sharpness/pointedness, hardness, and other characteristics of some insect body parts (such as legs, and other body parts) may get stuck, or be a choking hazard in some instances
– Allergy Concerns
wikipedia.org also outlines some potential hazards with insects as food, similar to those listed above.
An additional potential concern they raise is the shelf life of insects and insect food products.
Potential Food Safety Hazards With Specific Insects
wikipedia.org has a table that lists potential food safety hazards of specific insect types.
canr.msu.edu (paraphrased) has some safety tips for eating edible insects, which you can find in their report
Cleaning, separating, cooking and chilling are 4 of the main food safety basics they mention, in addition to purchasing from a reputable insect/bug food supplier
wikipedia.org also lists various ways that potential food safety hazards with insects can be controlled/managed.
Regulations on eating insects and bugs differs between different countries.
canr.msu.edu (paraphrased) indicates that in the US, the FDA currently regulates insects as they relate to food, and although they treat ‘… insects as filth or defects in food’, there’s ‘… currently no regulations specifically regarding edible insects in the United States’
However, when it comes to the production of insects, wikipedia.org mentions that in North America (and other countries) ‘[Insects are] produced under strict food law and hygiene standard for human consumption’
wikipedia.org provides more information on food safety, regulation, and authorisation in different regions around the world in their guide