Swedish scholars punt insect farming for food sustainability

Posted by Gabrielle Jacobs on 18 January 2019

Researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) recently proclaimed that farming insects could be the future of sustainable food production.

In an opinion article, three scholars consider the benefits of this venture, as well as the potential challenges required to make insect farming and ‘insects-as-food’ model a feasible and sustainable practice.

In the article published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, the Swedes recognise the emerging ‘insects-as-food’ industry in Western countries that could provide a solution to what is described as the increased demand for animal protein.

Image: Screenshot/ Instagram/ @foodtypecoltd

Conservation biologist, co-author and correspondent for the article, Åsa Berggren told food industry news site Food Ingredients First that ‘as the global demand for protein grows, insect mass-rearing can play an important role in the future of food. We know that we can’t keep doing what we’re doing in terms of producing food and utilising the land.’

Entomophagy is the practice of humans eating insects. The idea of crunching on little critter fritters isn’t conventional but is no foreign concept. Humans have been consuming insects for millennia.

In Asia, Central and South America, Australasia and Africa, entomophagy has existed for ages, but stigmas around insects abound, and apart from fear and disgust, or considered taboo.

The Netherlands and Belgium are cited by Berggren as emerging Western nations when it comes to entomophagy.

In 2013 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a study investigating the feasibility and sustainability of farming insects for food and feed. ‘Insects provide food at low environmental cost, contribute positively to livelihoods, and play a fundamental role in nature,’ their report suggested.

Insects:

  • Emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia compared to pigs and cattle
  • Produce less ‘frass’ or waste and excreta
  • Consume less and feed differently to larger mammals
  • Are able to consume and convert organic waste or toxic compounds that humans aren’t able to metabolise
  • Are highly nutritious sources of protein and carbohydrates, as well as fats, minerals and vitamins
  • Require less land, food and water to farm

Crickets, mealworms and locusts are popular choices for entomophagists because of their nutritional value.

According to the UN, the protein, vitamin and mineral content of mealworms is similar to that of fish and red meat, and the composition of the unsaturated omega-3 and -6 fatty acids found in mealworms are nearly on par with those found in fish, which is higher than in cattle and pigs.

The team of Swedish researchers based in Uppsala agree that more research needs to be conducted with respect to identifying suitable insect species, rearing and ethical ramifications.

To some degree, humans have been farming insects for some time now, with bees and silkworms being the best examples, for their honey and silk byproducts respectively. Eating them however, may just require some more convincing.

‘This new food system has a lot of potential, so it would be a shame if we didn’t take full advantage in the best way we can,’ Berggren added.

 

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Citation

Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Berggren et al.: “Approaching Ecological Sustainability in the Emerging Insects-as-Food Industry” https://www.cell.com/trends/ecology-evolution/fulltext/S0169-5347(18)30276-3, DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2018.11.005

Featured mage: Screenshot/ Instagram/ @foodtypecoltd

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