This document reports on the findings of a small project in which we used the tools of
Foresight to think about the potential of edible insects to contribute to global food security in
a future global food system. Foresight offers a tool box of approaches and methods for
thinking about the future in a methodical, deliberative way. Foresight methods can be used to
anticipate (rather than predict) plausible future developments, which can help society to
prepare itself to meet future challenges, and also to think about ways to steer towards
desired futures and avoid negative outcomes.
Researchers have identified more than 1,900 species of insect that feature in human diets
around the world. Edible insect species in general are found to be good sources of healthy
protein together with some fat and dietary fibre, along with useful quantities of important
micronutrients. It has been proposed that edible insects could make a significant contribution
to global food security in the future. Specifically, some experts think that insects could be a
more sustainable source of protein compared to conventional livestock because they convert
feed to edible food more efficiently than chickens, pigs and cattle, while producing fewer
greenhouse gas emissions and requiring less land and water. Edible insects are also being
developed as an alternative feed for conventional livestock and farmed fish, in place of grain
crops and fishmeal.
To consider the potential contributions of edible insects in the future global food system, we
undertook three activities: a literature review; an online guided discussion with stakeholders,
incorporating a questionnaire; and a Foresight scenario exercise. We involved stakeholders
in the online discussion and scenario workshop who possessed relevant knowledge and
expertise in fields such as entomophagy (insect-eating), nutrition, food security, public health
and regulation.
The participants in the scenario workshop identified a selection of major trends and drivers of
change that they expected to play significant roles in shaping the future. Two important
themes were selected as axes to provide a structure for the scenario exercise. The chosen
axes were resource scarcity (intensified vs eased) and economic power (concentrated vs
distributed). These two axes created four quadrants to be populated with future scenarios.
The four scenarios developed by the workshop participants were as follows: A Gated World
(characterised by concentrated economic power with intensified resource constraints); New
Asia (characterised by distributed economic power and intensified resource constraints);
Mundus Middle-Class (characterised by distributed economic power and eased resource
constraints); and Bread and Circuses (characterised by concentrated economic power and
eased resource constraints).
The scenarios depicted four different future worlds with remarkable vividness. Edible insects
featured in all four scenarios, suggesting that some kind of edible insect sector producing
food and feed is quite likely to emerge, and that funding for research into production
technologies and safety issues would be a legitimate investment. In all four cases the sector
was envisaged as bifurcated into a fine foods concept at one pole and a mass-produced
protein substitute at the other. It is the relative size and importance of these two segments
that varies between the different scenarios. The relevance of insect-based feeds in each
scenario depended largely on whether conventional meat products remained an affordable
and socially accepted option for consumers. Where this practice remained acceptable,
insect-based feeds could contribute to making conventional livestock production more
A future of widespread entomophagy is plausible but many challenges would need to be
addressed before the industry could emerge on a substantial, even global scale. Research is
needed into production and processing technologies and food safety issues. The economic
viability of a future edible insect sector is substantially uncertain at present. It will depend on
the size of the eventual market for edible insects as well as the scale economies of insect
production and processing.
Human entomophagy could increase the availability and affordability of healthy protein in the
developing world. Countries in tropical regions where insect-eating is already established
may be in the best position to expand this market, and companies in these regions may have
a competitive advantage in serving it. As developing countries become wealthier, insectbased foods may offer a more sustainable way to meet future protein requirements than
conventional meat. However, the assumption that it will be easier to persuade consumers to
eat insects than convince them to eat less meat should be tested, and it is possible that other
meat alternatives such as vegetable or algal proteins may be as sustainable and marketable
as insect-based foods, or even more so