Feeding the world with bugs

Friday, 27 June, 2014

The answer to feeding the world’s growing population? Bugs, according to experts at the 2014 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo.

Currently, approximately 70% of agricultural land - and 30% of total land on earth - is used to raise livestock. If we’re going to feed 9 billion-plus people in 2050, our eating habits will need to change.

“Insects require less feed, less water, less land and less energy to produce and their production generates substantially lower environmental pollutants, such as pesticides and greenhouse gases,” said Aaron Dossey, PhD, owner and founder of All Things Bugs, a US company that provides protein-rich insect powder for commercial use.

“Eighty-five insect species in the US are documented as potential food sources; worldwide, there are 1900 species,” said Florence Dunkel, PhD, Associate Professor of Entomology at Montana State University and editor of Food Insects Newsletter. Dr Dunkel says locusts, grasshoppers, crickets, silk moth pupae and beetle and moth larvae are among the top insects consumed as food around the world.

While insects are considered to be perfectly acceptable nosh in developing countries, most of us in developed countries aren’t too keen on the thought of eating beetles for dinner.

“Western cultures’ aversion to the use of edible insects as a food source is a serious issue in human nutrition. But it’s the way forward into a sustainable world environment,” said Dr Dunkel.

But insects are a great source of high-quality, highly digestible protein. “Some insects are as much as 80% protein by weight and provide more essential amino acids than most animal proteins,” said Dr Dossey. “They are also rich in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids.”

Some companies are jumping on the insect trend to get in early. Chapul Cricket Bars, founded by Patrick Crowley, are energy bars made with high-protein cricket powder. “It’s an exciting time to be at the forefront of this budding industry,” said Crowley. Chapul is the first company in the US to use insects as a source of nutrition.

In Australia, the Edible Bug Shop sells a range of roasted and frozen, sweet and savoury edible insects.

While in some countries insects are harvested in the wild, such practices are typically inefficient and involve risks from environmental toxins and pathogens. Insects, such as crickets and mealworms, can be efficiently farmed in an industrial setting free from contaminants. In fact, samples from insect farms in the US and Europe have been tested for contaminants that sometimes present problems in foods from animal sources, such as Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli or Staphylococcus aureus, and have been found to be free of contaminants.

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