Insects as Feed or Food – Potential and challenges
Insects as Feed or Food – Potential and challenges, Vienna, Austria, 16 Oct 2017 (Britt Maestroni, Food Scientist, IAEA): The author suggested that edible insects represent a promising alternative to the conventional production of meat, either for direct human consumption or for indirect use as feedstock. Nevertheless, a temandous amount of research still needs to be done to realize the potential that insects offer for food and feed safety. (Food Env Prot Newsletter, Joint FAO/IAEA Program: 21 (1), 2018.
The FEPL was invited to participate in an informal debate on edible insects by the United Nations Information Service, on the occasion of the showing of a movie called “Bugs”, sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations in Vienna. The debate that followed the movie discussed the potential and challenges of edible insects as a possible source of proteins to respond to the growing demand for feed and food security. In a world that will soon approach nine billion people, food security is a major challenge that needs to be addressed immediately. Whether as food for humans or feed for animals, the use of edible insects offers environmental benefits as they have a high feed conversion efficiency, converting an organic substrate into an edible output – the insect itself or its components. While livestock need around 6 kg of plant protein to produce 1 kg of high quality animal protein, crickets, for example, need about 1.7 kg of plant substrate to convert into 1 kg of edible protein. When these figures are adjusted for the edible part of the organism, insects are a more viable alternative than cattle, for example. While only 40% of a cow is edible, this figure increases to 80 for crickets.
It is estimated that insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people. More than 1900 species have reportedly been used as food (FAO, 2013). On a global scale, the most commonly consumed insects are beetles (Coleoptera, 31%), caterpillars (Lepidoptera, 18%) and bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera, 14%). Following these are grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (Orthoptera, 13%), cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers, scale insects and true bugs (Hemiptera, 10%), termites (Isoptera, 3%), dragonflies (Odonata, 3%), flies (Diptera, 2%) and other orders (5%). Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, is heavily influenced by cultural and religious practices. Insects are commonly consumed as a food source in many regions of the world. In most Western countries, however, people view entomophagy with disgust and associate eating insects with primitive behaviour. Despite this, the topic of edible insects has recently started to capture public attention worldwide. On one hand, insects are a highly nutritious and healthy food source with high fat, protein, vitamin, fibre and mineral content. For example, the composition of unsaturated omega-3 and six fatty acids in mealworms is comparable with that in fish. On the other hand, recent high demand and consequent high prices for fishmeal and soy, together with increasing aquacultural production, is pushing new research into the development of insects for feed, as a source of proteins for aquaculture and poultry. At present most edible insects are harvested in the wild.
The concept of farming insects for food is relatively new; an example of rearing insects for human consumption in the tropics is cricket farming in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand and Viet Nam (FAO, 2013). Insect gathering and rearing as mini-livestock at the household level or industrial scale could offer important livelihood opportunities for people in both developing and developed countries, especially women. Food & Environmental Protection Newsletter, Vol. 21, No. 1, January 2018 13 In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority published an opinion on the risk profile related to the production and consumption of insects as food and feed. The main recommendation was to initiate research on a long list of topics including human consumption, animal/pet consumption, biological and chemical hazards as well as allergenicity and environmental hazards. A clear and comprehensive legal framework at national/international level is needed to move forward the full potential of insects as food or feed. With the growth of the food insect sector, there will inevitably be related food safety issues. These are likely to include traceability and authenticity of the insects and insect-based foods. The technology platforms and applications and the methodology developed through the FEPL projects for our current traceability/authenticity work should be directly transferrable to this new field. Chemical and pharmaceutical residues may also be a potential issue if mass-rearing facilities for food insects become commonplace – for example, anti-viral drugs may be used to control pests and parasites affecting insect rearing, which could then be transferred into the foods produced and would require controls to be in place. In conclusion edible insects represent a promising alternative to the conventional production of meat, either for direct human consumption or for indirect use as feedstock. Nevertheless, a tremendous amount of research still needs to be done to realize the potential that insects offer for food and feed security. A useful reference is “Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security”, FAO forestry paper No. 1713 .
Dairy Science Park has utilized worm meal for poultry production under postgraduate research and would like to investigate the interactions further for utilizing such techniques in beef and dairy production.