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"We’re farmers. Please treat us as such."

Mike Pomranz
Updated December 19, 2018

The 2018 U.S. federal budget was about $4 trillion. With a number that large, there are almost certainly a few places where legislators could trim some fat. But insect farmers are upset that the recently introduced REDUCE Government Waste Act is trying to trim a potential source of sustainable protein instead: insect-based foods.

The odd bill, proposed by Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, seeks to cut waste in three ways. First, it would cut subsidies to peanut farmers. Second, it stipulates that, I kid you not, "no Federal funds may be used for the development of a beerbot or other robot bartender." And finally, it also states that "no Federal funds may be used for the development of insect-based foods for human consumption, including cricket farming and taste-testing of insect-based foods."

Though robot bartenders probably weren't programmed to vocally object to their own federal defunding, needless to say, the humans who are working hard to determine the viability of insects as an environmentally-friendly food source don't think being lumped in with beerbots is a laughing matter.

"After a failed attempt to add an amendment to the Farm Bill earlier this year that sought to ban research funding for insect agriculture and insect-based foods, Senator Flake has now teamed up with Senator Cortez Masto in a renewed effort to frame ongoing research supporting insect farming as ‘wasteful,'" the North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture (NACIA) said according to FoodNavigator-USA.

Edible bugs may seem like an easy target seeing as the practice hasn't been fully embraced by the American public yet — a fact Senator Flake tried to prove by hamming it up for congressional cameras in July — but NACIA president Robert Nathan Allen further pointed out that neglecting edible insects could prove to be a huge missed opportunity for the U.S. "There is an explosion of growth in this industry globally and the U.S. lags behind," he stated. "The insect agriculture industry has grown tremendously in only a few short years — creating jobs, starting American businesses, and fueling economic growth. All signs point to that growth not only continuing, but accelerating."

Of course, the obvious retort is that if edible insects are such big business, why do they need funding at all? But Kevin Bachhuber, an insect agriculture consultant, says insect farmers just want to be treated like every other farmer, calling Flake's opinion downright "discrimination." In a letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee, Bachhuber pointed out, "Insects have long been excluded from the same consideration as their warm-blooded peers by the USDA… Denied regular access to the Farm Services Agency, the Farm Bureau, USDA, unrepresented in the definitions that govern crop insurance, farm subsidies, guaranties, or loans… There are already insects in the Specialty Crop Block Grant, USDA risk pools, etc., but they're all bees."

In fact, edible insect farmers appear to be arguing that they need more government support, not less. "We're farmers. Please treat us as such," said Bachhuber, hammering home his point.

Making this whole story more bizarre is that Flake will be leaving the Senate at the end of the year. Is this really the issue he wants to end his legacy on? Oh, and also, he might want to lay off the robot bartenders too: When those things inevitably become sentient, you do not want to be in some Terminator-style battle with beerbots! Trust me.

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