The global fascination with crickets as an alternative food source has reached Canada's shores, with taxpayers left footing the bill.
Since 2018, the federal government has spent $420,023 subsidizing companies that turn crickets into human food.
According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), the federal government signed eight deals with five companies, excluding Aspire Food Groups, which received $8.5 million through four handouts in the recent year.
Aspire is primarily geared toward pet food production, though its owner said roughly 10% of its business is premised on crickets for human consumption.
"Canadians are struggling as inflation pushes grocery bills, but subsidizing snacks made out of bugs doesn't sound like the right solution for taxpayers," said Franco Terrazzano, Federal Director of the CTF.
"If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to take a bite out of crunchy crickets, he can do it without taking a bite out of taxpayers' wallets."
After reviewing federal grant and contribution disclosures, CTF said the Montreal-based NAAK Inc. received taxpayer money twice at a combined cost of $171,695.
NAAK pursued "cricket energy bars" after one of its co-founders had been "introduced […] to the benefits of adding insects to [their] diet" by a friend.
Now, their mission is to "democratize insect consumption."
They have since developed cricket-inspired "steaks, sausages and falafels."
Other companies producing crickets for human food have also joined the frenzy recently.
Casa Bonita Foods intends to "manufacture high protein snacks made with cricket flour." At the same time, Prairie Cricket Farms monetizes "roasted crickets" or "cricket powder" mixed in with your morning bowl of cereal.
Additionally, the founder of Entologik claims insects are the "protein of the future."
The company received two taxpayer handouts for $88,979 to fund its vision of becoming "the largest producer and processor of edible insects in Canada."
But Terrazzano doesn't buy the hoopla.
"The feds are having their 'let them eat crickets' moment," he said. "If someone can sell crickets as food, we wish them the best of luck, but taxpayers shouldn't be paying for it."
Proponents of alternative proteins like crickets also include the World Economic Forum (WEF), which says they offset emissions compared to other meat products.
According to the Forum, cricket food production uses about one-eighth of the water and generates one-third of the carbon emissions of a cattle farm.
Mohammed Ashour, chief executive of Aspire, dismissed the claim that they are part of a global conspiracy to force people to eat bugs.
"We are a [proudly] Canadian company, employing Canadians, sourcing products from Canadian businesses and hopefully setting ourselves up for future expansion," he said.
As of last October, Aspire employed 100 people to cultivate cricket powder for drinks, baked goods and protein bars at its first London site.
According to a Research and Markets report, the edible insect market will reach $3.5 billion by 2029 and grow 28.6% annually during the same period.
"We have significant contractual commitments for the majority of our products and expect 100% will be sold within the year," revealed Ashour.
They expect to be at full capacity by early 2024 and produce up to 13 million kilograms of crickets annually.
Talks of a second facility are underway, but their directive is solely to produce pet food.