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Insects could be on your dinner menu, soon

In certain countries in Southeast Asia, grasshoppers are eaten as a good source of protein.
Gavriel Jecan | Getty Images
In certain countries in Southeast Asia, grasshoppers are eaten as a good source of protein.

Feeding the world's growing population is a major issue for global policy makers, and Euromonitor thinks it has the answer: insects.

The thought of eating insects may turn the stomachs in the western world, but an estimated 2 billion people worldwide eat insects, Euromonitor said in a report.

Eating insects for their taste and nutritional value is popular in many developing regions of central and South America, Africa and Asia. Insects contain high levels of protein, minerals and vitamins, and are considered a healthier alternative to meat.

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Burger with a side of critters?

Insects could therefore provide a viable solution to food shortages and the increasing demand for meat, the Euromonitor report said.

Consumer expenditure on meat will rise by 87.9 percent in emerging and developing countries in 2014-2030, more than three times higher than the equivalent 25.3 percent growth in developed economies, according to Euromonitor's forecasts.

At the same time, global food supply issues have become a more prominent concern. Extreme weather cycles have played havoc with harvests and crops leading to extreme spikes in food prices, protectionist policies and crop hoarding.

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In the past three years, Australia, Canada, China, Russia and the U.S. have all suffered huge harvest losses from floods and droughts, Reuters reported.

Earlier this year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned that global food production needed to increase by 60 percent by mid-century or risk food shortages that could bring social unrest and civil wars.

"The most obvious challenge to insects becoming a viable food source for the future is that negative attitudes in Western cultures towards insects as food need to change," said Media Eghbal, head of countries' analysis at Euromonitor.

Eghbal pointed out that as a result of the western world's more squeamish palate, a more realistic solution could be using more insects in animal feed, demand for which is bound to increase as global demand for meat rises.

Other benefits

The report also highlighted other benefits of using insects as a source of food.

Farming insects is better for the environment than traditional livestock farming as the process requires less land and water, it said, and produces less greenhouse gas emissions.

It's also cheaper. Consumers would pay less for these food products, which could help reduce poverty and boost economic growth.

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Insects are a popular source of food in countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Africa, Mexico, Columbia and New Guinea. The most popular delicacies include crickets, grasshoppers, ants, scorpions, tarantulas and various species of caterpillar, according to www.insectsarefood.com.

Companies and governments are already investing in research and experimenting with insects as sources of food, the Euromonitor report said.

In the Netherlands, the government has begun research into insect farms, while a South African company is planning to build the world's largest fly farm.

The Netherlands was also home to the first international conference on the subject "Insects to feed the world" in May this year.