The European Union recognizes it has a meat problem. The bloc has no easy way to curb the climate impact of its livestock, which eat soybeans grown on deforested lands and belch heat-trapping gas. According to one estimate, Europe’s farm animals have a bigger carbon footprint than its cars.
In this photo essay, Luigi Avantaggiato explores an unusual solution to this dilemma that is now gaining traction — feeding insects to livestock and, potentially, people. The European Commission says that insects could replace soy-based animal feed, helping to slow deforestation, or even supply an alternate source of protein for humans. Studies show that insects can furnish the same amount of protein as livestock while using as little as 10 percent of the land and producing as little as 1 percent of the emissions.
In 2021, the E.U. approved feeding insect protein to chickens and pigs, a practice already allowed for farmed fish. And it has since cleared the way for selling yellow mealworms, lesser mealworms, migratory locusts, and house crickets to humans, either to be eaten whole or reduced to protein for pasta, cereal bars, and other foods.
As regulatory hurdles fall, dozens of startups in Europe, some supported by E.U. grants, are betting on a growing market for edible insects. By 2030, their trade group claims, European companies will be churning out 1 million tons of insect-based animal feed yearly, and 390 million Europeans will be munching on some form of bug-based fare.
In these photos, Avantaggiato provides a look inside the nascent bug food industry in Northern Italy, focusing on efforts to raise house crickets and soldier flies and research into how livestock manage on insect-based food. Bugs have long been a staple of human diets in parts of Asia and Africa, Avantaggiato says. Now, in the West, “the role of insects is changing, and bugs have been invested with new potential.”
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Luigi Avantaggiato is an Italian photographer. After earning a PhD in visual studies, he began working as a documentary photographer, with a strong interest in socio-anthropological and environmental transformations. See more at www.luigiavantaggiato.photography.