Are insects safe to eat?

There are currently over 1900 species of insects that are known to be safe to eat, but there are probably many more. In the UK the law allows us to sell any insects that have been widely eaten here before 1997, just to be safe.

It is not safe to harvest insects from your garden, as they might have eaten pesticides. The safest way to eat insects is to buy them from a reputable shop, or to breed your own and carefully control what the insects are fed. You could then eat the second generation of insects, rather than the ones directly from the garden (make sure the species is edible first though).

Insects may not be suitable for people who have shellfish or dust mite allergies. This is because they are similar in composition. Some people who have shellfish allergies are fine when eating insects, and others with no allergy may find that they cannot eat insects.

What does ‘entomophagy’ mean?

Entomophagy is the term used to describe the consumption of insects. It is pronounced ‘ento moff fagee’. Someone who eats insects could be described as ‘entomophagous’.

Are insects suitable for vegetarians?

It really depends on the person and why they are vegetarian. Insects are living creatures, much like chickens, cows or fish. When eaten, they could be considered to be meat. However, some people who usually avoid meat are happy to try insects for several reasons:

  • knowing the insects are farmed in high welfare conditions
  • less concern about insects’ emotional well-being or ability to feel pain
  • not considering insects to be in the same class of animals as poultry or cattle
  • knowledge about the environmental benefits of eating insects

I want to start my own insect farm, where can I buy one?

Check out US company Tiny Farms and their Open Bug Farm for tips on how to make your own farm, or Third Millennium Farming in Canada, who sell home cricket farms.

If insects are so easy to breed, why aren’t they cheaper to buy?

Unlike the many centuries we have spent on improving yields and processes for livestock farming, industrialisation of insect farming is only an emerging area. Most insect farms require a lot of manual labour for feeding, transporting and processing the bugs, and this makes it expensive. Most farms are also small, so don’t benefit from economies of scale and can’t afford expensive equipment that would make insect farming far more efficient. There are also no subsidies for insect farmers.

As the insect farming industry grows, then the cost of farming will decrease and lead to lower prices of insect goods.

What happens if insects escape from a farm?

Some people are concerned that insects might escape from farms and devastate local crops. Leading entomologists have assured me that farmed insects would die soon after escaping, as they wouldn’t be able to maintain the right heat. There are already large insect farms in the UK that cater for zoos and bird feeders, who operate without problems. All farms will have to comply to regulations and put in place safety procedures to avoid problems of non-native species escaping, if they might ever be a problem for local wildlife or crops.