January 19, 2018
Insects are high in protein, can be raised with a smaller footprint on natural resources than the demands made by conventional farming and be produced in great quantities. However, there are no clear regulations in place to get insects into the human or animal food chains.
Recent studies carried out by the European Union-funded PROTEINSECT (Enabling the exploitation of Insects as a Sustainable Source of Protein for Animal Feed & Human Nutrition) project has helped inform a review into the challenge of broadening the appeal, safety and sustainability of insects as food.
As the authors of the recently published report in the journal Nutritional Bulletin wrote, insects have generally high levels of animal protein and key micronutrients with lower environmental footprints than traditional alternatives, and they can be raised on leftovers. On the other hand, cultural, social and economic hurdles remain.
The report establishes the historical significance of entomophagy by humans and key opportunities and hurdles identified by research to date, such as that conducted by PROTEINSECT, paying particular attention to research gaps, according to a news release from the European Commission's CORDIS information system.
The report, described as a narrative review, points out that there are questions surrounding the impact on the insects of the food they are fed and how that could affect their safety as a food source. It considers how to maintain the benefits to the environment of breeding insects even if their production is scaled up.
It also highlights the need for future research to establish clear processing and storage methodology, define rearing practices and implement regulations with regard to food and feed safety. It sets out the barriers to the widespread implementation of entomophagy and the steps necessary to counter them.
Entomophagy is not a new thing — there is archaeological evidence demonstrating that humans have evolved as an entomophagous species, the CORDIS announcement said.
The report explains that in parts of Central Africa, at times, up to 50% of dietary protein comes from insects, and their market value is higher than many alternative sources of animal protein. It has been estimated that entomophagy is practiced in at least 113 countries with more than 2,000 documented edible insect species, and the U.N. has recommended the practice as a potential solution to the shortage of world food supplies.
Use in animal feed
According to CORDIS, insects are already part of the natural diets of pigs, poultry and fish. The report cites research showing that incorporating insects into broiler poultry feeds seems to result in no reduction in growth rates and, in some cases, increased chick growth rates. Replacement of soybean oil with black soldier fly larvae has been shown to have no influence on growth or performance of broiler chickens, suggesting it is a viable alternative, the announcement said.
A key benefit, however, would be replacing the fish meal and oil that is used in animal food with insect meal, so taking the pressure off ocean fish stocks that are being depleted by overfishing to provide animal feed.
PROTEINSECT ended in 2016. The recent Nutritional Bulletin article, titled "Opportunities & Hurdles of Edible Insects For Food & Feed," drew on PROTEINSECT’s findings that 66% of consumers questioned consider fly larvae as a suitable feedstuff, more than 80% want to know more about insects as feed, and 75% were happy to eat animals fed on insects.
More information is available on the PROTEINSECT project website.
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