Insect farming has been identified by Zero Waste Scotland as a sustainable, new way to produce more food using less resources.
The publicly-funded non-profit has published guidance online to help people take advantage of the lucrative job opportunities it believes insect farming can bring for reducing the waste and carbon emissions driving the climate emergency.
William Clark, bioeconomy specialist at Zero Waste Scotland, wrote the new guidance for would-be insect farmers as changing regulations open up more markets for 21st century farming.
Spelling out the potential for turning food waste into new jobs instead of letting it rot and generate harmful emissions, Dr Clark said: "Insect farming is a really valuable, circular economy way for us to use food waste to produce more protein using less resources.
"You can set up an insect farm in a few shipping containers. You don't need the acres of fields which traditional farming requires to feed more typical livestock, so insect farms aren't competing for the same limited resources, like land and water. They can produce about 100 times more protein per year from the same amount of space than you would get by farming chicken or cattle.
"Scotland's food waste could support dozens of insect farms and jobs. Firms and governments around the world are already reaping the economic and environmental benefits of investing in this innovative approach. It's time Scotland did the same."
He added: "Farming insects in Scotland might sound unlikely or unappetising but it could play a significant role in solving Scotland's food waste problem and reducing our reliance on imported crops like soy for agriculture and aquaculture, which drives up the carbon emissions behind the climate crisis.
"Insect farms offers a reliable, sustainable circular economy solution to the protein gap. For although the world produces enough food for everyone, more than a third of it goes to waste so people don't get the protein they need. On top of that, farming insects can also produce valuable by-products such as biodiesel, bioplastics and organic fertilisers."
New European Union regulations introduced in 2017 allow farming of seven insect species, including field crickets and black soldier flies. The insects can be fed on pre-consumer food waste from supermarkets, arable farms and bakeries, such as surplus cereals, bread dough, liquid chocolate and crisps.
Farmed insects can then be fed in turn to farmed fish, and also used to make pet food. The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre estimates that demand for insect protein from that sector alone is worth more than £25m per year.
Early this year (2020) EU regulations are expected to be extended to allow insects to be farmed to produce feed for poultry and pigs too. Regulations covering novel foods were updated in 2018 to include farming insects to produce food for people direct.
So far there are no insect farms in Scotland or the UK. However, Thomas Farrugia, who set up Beta Bugs to pioneer breeding insects in Scotland, with support from Zero Waste Scotland, said growing numbers of people, including traditional farmers, were interested in farming insects.
He said: "It's great that Zero Waste Scotland has produced this guidance, which really ties into the interest we're seeing in diversification from traditional farmers and other businesses. More and more people are asking us about this. They are thinking that in the future traditional livestock rearing might not be an option and this could be the next thing.
"Chicken farming started with farmers wanting to diversify. First, they cleared some space for a single chicken shed, which worked well, so then over time they put up more sheds and eventually became chicken farmers. The same could well happen with insects like black soldier flies."
In Scotland alone nearly £1.1 billion of food is thrown away every year. Food waste is worse for the planet than plastic in the short-term in terms of carbon emissions. When food is thrown away, that wastes not only its nutritional value but also the water, soil, nutrients, work hours, energy, transport and plastic packaging involved in producing and selling it.
The guide to becoming an insect farmer can be downloaded here.