Insects as Food - Something for the Future?Jansson, Anna; Berggren, Åsa;
Increased world population, greater pressure on the environment, increased use of land resources globally and increased demand for nutrients and non-renewable energy are predicted for coming decades. Livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land use and, as the global demand for livestock products is expected to almost double by 2050, innovative production solutions are needed. Insect farming has been suggested as a good alternative to conventional livestock farming for future food production.
Land clearing for agriculture is a major contributor to global warming and efficient use of land is therefore important. Insects have a high feed conversion rate, which in a rearing system limits the demand for land for feed production. Moreover, insects emit less green - house gases than conventional livestock. It has also been suggested that the volume of water required to produce edible insects is low compared with that needed in conventional livestock production, although empirical data on this are currently lacking. Most edible insects are herbivores and therefore feed of limited value to humans may be harvested and fed to insects. By-products from the food and forest industry are also alternatives. As insects are rich in high quality protein, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, insect consumption reduces malnutrition in developing countries. Moreover, intake of insect products instead of traditional livestock products may have positive health effects in Western societies.
Insects are part of the diet of at least two billion people in the world and more than 1900 insect species are currently used as food. The most common insects consumed world-wide are different species of beetles (31% of all insects species consumed), caterpillars (18%) and bees, wasps and ants (14%). In many countries, but not (yet) in Europe and North America, insects are considered a delicacy. In Western societies, eating insects is instead commonly regarded with disgust and as primitive behaviour. In order to promote entomophagy – the practice of eating insects – in Western societies, the disgust factor must be addressed. Much can be learned from the Netherlands, where entomophagy has been successfully promoted since the late 1990s.
Today, most edible insects are harvested in the wild and it is only recently that farming of insects for direct human consumption has begun, mainly in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Farmed insects can also be found in the USA and the Netherlands, but mainly for purposes other than human consumption. If insects are to become a profitable commodity in Western countries, there is a need for development of safe and efficient mass-rearing systems. Many insects reproduce rapidly and have large numbers of offspring, which can be an advantage for the development of successful rearing systems. However, through their diversity in terms of types, numbers, life cycles and habitat, insects are exposed to a wide range of pathologies. Different parasites and diseases can regulate wild populations of insects, but can also have a major impact on farmed species. However, the risk of zoonotic infections can be expected to be low.
Possible candidates for food insect production in Sweden are the house cricket (Acheta domesticus), mealworms, the larvae of the beetle Tenebrio molitor, and honeybees (Apis mellifera). When planning food insect production systems in Sweden, the focus should be on species that are either native or have a long history in the country, in order to minimise the impacts arising from unintentional release of insects from farming systems. For feed production aimed at insects the same rule should be applied. New plant or crop types for food insects should not be introduced on Swedish land.
Properly managed, however, insect production systems can contribute to biodiversity and land conservation. Loss of natural habitat within the agricultural landscape and increased use of pesticides and fertilisers have negative effects on biodiversity and biological control. Possible actions to mitigate biodiversity decline are management of unfertilised meadows and wet grazing areas, increased small-scale heterogeneity in monoculture landscapes and, on a smaller scale, establishment of densely vegetated strips around crop fields. Harvesting vegetation from these areas would provide farmed insects with feed, while the plant material would be sustainably grown and enhance native biodiversity even within large-scale feed production for insects.
Due to this resource use efficiency and the good nutritional value of insects, insect rearing for entomophagy has the potential to become a modern and sustainable food production system.
insects, entomophagy, insect farming
ISBN: 978-91-576-9335-8 (Print), 978-91-576-9336-5 (Electronic)
Publisher: Future agriculture, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
UKÄ Subject classification
Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use
URI (permanent link to this page)