Our food production systems fuel the destruction of the natural world. Using insects to feed livestock could make a huge difference – Mike Barrett


A model?  The Cerrado in Brazil is home to animals like the giant anteater, but its habitat is plowed to produce soybean feed for livestock.  One solution could be to feed farm animals insects instead (Photo: Ina Fassbender / AFP via Getty Images)

A model? The Cerrado in Brazil is home to animals like the giant anteater, but its habitat is plowed to produce soybean feed for livestock. One solution could be to feed farm animals insects instead (Photo: Ina Fassbender / AFP via Getty Images)

Over the past year, many of us have found solace in the kitchen trying new recipes and as things open up we share a new appreciation for dining out or lighting the barbecue with friends. .

When we are told that our food here in the UK is causing the destruction of nature around the world, it is tempting to switch off.

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We don’t want us to feel guilty about what’s on our plates – yet many would be shocked to know what this is costing our planet. On top of that, millions of tonnes of food are thrown away in the UK every year.

Securing a greener future for our planet will mean meeting the challenge of how to produce food more sustainably, while reducing waste and restoring nature – and using insects to feed the animals raised for us. meat might be one way to help.

Farm animals play a crucial role in the global food system, supporting livelihoods around the world, but producing enough food for the 80 billion animals raised for human consumption each year puts our planet under pressure. immense pressure. Seventy-seven percent of the world’s agricultural land is used for livestock and the land necessary for their food.

Three quarters of the soybeans produced in the world are for animal feed, mainly for pigs and chickens, including those we buy from the UK. Soybeans produce more protein per hectare than any other major crop, but its cultivation is fueling climate change and biodiversity loss, as huge swaths of land are cleared for monoculture farms.

One of the hardest hit places is the Brazilian Cerrado, where more than 100,000 hectares of valuable habitat are lost each year to make way for soybean production. Although the Cerrado is not as well known as its neighbor, the Amazon, it is one of the most biodiverse places in the world and spans the size of the United Kingdom, France, the ‘Germany, Italy and Spain combined.

The sun sets over the Preto River in Formosa do Rio Preto in western Bahia state (Photo: Nelson Almeida / AFP via Getty Images)

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Eating insects instead of beef could “help preserve the environment”

Its meadows, woods, forests and wetlands are home to more than 10,000 species of plants – nearly half of which are found nowhere else in the world – as well as unique wildlife such as the jaguar, giant anteater and the giant armadillo.

It’s not just the wildlife that see their homes destroyed. People who have lived in Cerrado for generations are being displaced to make way for soybean farms. Indigenous communities without title to their land are particularly vulnerable.

Soy will always have a role to play in the food system, but we need to move towards sustainable soybean production while looking for viable alternatives that can help reduce pressure on the land. This is where insects come in. They are a rich source of protein and are naturally present in the diets of fish, poultry and pigs.

New research commissioned by WWF, in partnership with Tesco, found that adopting insects as animal feed could replace more than half a million tonnes of soybeans from the UK’s footprint by now 2050. This is equivalent to one fifth of the forecast soybean imports into the UK in 2050.

It is not only as animal feed that insects prove their worth – they can also help solve the problem of food waste. Many insects are biological processors, helping to recycle and break down waste. They can nibble on mountains of material, such as unwanted fruits and vegetables, that could otherwise go to the landfill.

Currently, insect meal is commercially available as bird and pet food, but there are barriers to its use as animal food, as insect protein cannot be used to feed livestock. ‘breeding intended for human consumption. The EU is expected to approve the use of insect meal for pig and poultry feed soon, and the UK may follow suit.

The use of insect meal is already approved for aquaculture and, although it is used by the main Norwegian fish farms, it is not commonly used in the UK. The volumes are currently too low and the prices too high, preventing significant use.

The UK is lagging behind mainland Europe and North America in developing its insect industry. The fact that new facilities are under construction is welcome, but both legislative changes and investment are needed to allow UK insect breeders to take advantage of potential demand.

One constraint is the regulation of what can be given to the insects themselves. This is why we are asking the UK government to mandate the Food Standards Agency, with input from Food Standards Scotland, to research the risks and benefits of using different foods for insects.

The UK will host the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in just four months and attention will rightly be focused on emission reduction promises. But we must not forget that climate change and the loss of nature are two sides of the same coin. The destruction of critical landscapes like the Cerrado is not only a tragedy for people and nature, but also has a direct impact on the planet’s ability to store carbon.

The way we produce and consume food contributes significantly to climate change and is the primary driver of global biodiversity loss. Conservation work on the ground can help places like Cerrado, but will not be enough on its own. We need global action to transform our food and agricultural systems and protect our planet, our only common home.

Insects are already providing significant benefits to the planet – aerate and improve soil, pollinate crops, and break down dead material. Now they could also help us feel good with the food on our plates.

Mike Barrett is Executive Director of Science and Conservation at the international conservation organization WWF

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