Beetles for breakfast !

George Brossard is a man on a crusad. To inform the world that the insects hold the key to a global food security

 
Published: Sunday 31 October 1999

Beetles for breakfast !

-- this is the belief of Georges Brossard who is on a mission to make insects an integral part of our lives. In future, the human race will have to look for alternative sources of food, like insects, to sustain itself, he says.

Brossard, who is the founder-director of Insectarium de Montreal, collects insects for a living. "Insects may become a major source of protein for the world," says Brossard. On one hand the global human population is increasing and on the other hand the economies in Asia are becoming stronger. As people become richer their preference for meat products increases. Brossard says that it takes a meagre amount of foodstuff to raise millions of insects, but it requires several kilogrammes (kg) of grain to produce one kg of pork or beef.

Therefore, the hungry human population is caught in a double whammy.Not only will the per capita availability of farmland for the production of grain decrease, but the quantity of grain required to feed an individual will also increase, because it is being used to produce meat for that individual.

"Insects do not require large areas for breeding," says Brossard. "Each insect also contains a blast of protein. One chicken gives you only 14-20 per cent protein, while an insect gives almost 80 per cent protein." He foresees that the food processing industry will soon begin farming insects to free the world from hunger.

Imagine a world where synthetic steak and synthetic chicken are arti-ficially flavoured and made out of insect protein? Even breakfast cereal could be made out of it. Who knows even ice -creams and milk could be synthetic and made out of the same?
Broken wings However, with humans exploiting large tracts of natural reserves on the Earth, the existence of insects is in jeopardy. "The kind of destruction of natural resources that has taken place in the last 60 years is greater than the destruction in the past 6,000 years," says Brossard. Deforestation has pushed many insects to the verge of extinction. A major threat to them is urbanisation and smog. Acid rain, which results from the burning of fossil fuels and exhaust emissions from diesel and petrol vehicles, has wiped out a large number of insects and threatens to wipe out more in the world.

"A very great threat comes from agriculture," says Brossard. "Humans believe in monoculture to produce food and cash crops. As a result, kilometres and kilometres, and in some cases, hundreds of kilometres are covered by only one crop - like cotton or wheat for example. Insects that do not co-exist with cotton or wheat are not found in these areas," he adds. As a result, the insect diversity in the area is adversely affected.

Farmers also use liberal applications of pesticides. This is highly counter-productive as it leads to the death of a large number of pollinating species. This in turn reduces crop output. Brossard also cautions against the use of pesticides for another reason. "Insecti-cides are immediately absorbed by the insects genetic code and they evolve developing an immunity to it. The result is that we have to push for more lethal pesticides and if that goes on we will end up killing ourselves," he says. In fact, by using more pesticides and insecticides we will make the insects more resistant and make ourselves more vulnerable to the residues of all these toxic substances that we will ingest with our food.

Insects can be seen playing a vital role in every aspect of our lives. One important aspect, again, is boosting food production. Insects carry pollen grains far and wide helping in the propagation of species. Without these pollinators, a number of plant species around the world would have died out.

However, the importance of insects as pollinators has been realised in several countries. "In the us and in Europe, renting bees has become a big business. Farmers have realised that pollinators can increase apple production by five fold. This only goes to show how hardworking insects really are," says Brossard.
On a crusade Brossard's mission is setting up insectariums in many countries. He has set up one even in China, despite initial opposition to the idea. Brossard's insectarium in Montreal is a money spinner with 650,000 people visiting it every year. But how this insectarium came up is a story in itself.

"I wanted the city of Montreal to have an insectarium but the people who were in power obviously didn't," he says. "So I had no choice but to go to the people for a mandate." His way of going about it was unique. Brossard got badges made with butterflies printed on them. He sold each badge for two Canadian dollars and collected a million dollars," he says. Now he was in a position to put pressure on the authorities. He donated the money to the civic authority for the purpose of setting up an insectarium. The government, this time, had to buckle under. Soon a huge beetle shaped structure and children's park came up. Brossard has donated a sizeable chunk of his personal collection of bugs to the insect museum. He has one ambition still left, to give New Delhi it's very own insectarium.

There is a note of warning in his tone. "I am worried about humans," he says. Humans cannot survive without insects. Mammals have a very limited impact on the planet as compared to insects. Without insects and the work they do daily to maintain and repair the planet's life support systems, life, as we know it, could come to a grinding halt, insists Brossard.

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