CRUNCH TIME FOR FOOD SECURITY
Insects have been a valuable source of nutritional protein for centuries, as both food and feed. The challenge now is to broaden their appeal, safely and sustainably
Feelings often run high where insects are concerned, with many people even squeamish to look on them, let alone touch or swallow them. And yet insects present a huge nutritional opportunity as an increasing global population seeks sustainable sources of food and feed.
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. But cultural, social and economic hurdles remain.
The assessment comes in a review paper by a team from Rothamsted Research and the University of Nottingham, and published today in Nutrition Bulletin.
“Insects present a nutritional opportunity, but it is unclear how their nutritional quality is influenced by what they are fed,” says Darja Dobermann, a doctoral researcher in entomophagy at Rothamsted and Nottingham, who led the review.
“In ideal conditions, insects have a smaller environmental impact than more traditional Western forms of animal protein; less known is how to scale up insect production while maintaining these environmental benefits,” she notes.
“Studies overall show that insects could make valuable economic and nutritional contributions to the food or feed systems, but there are no clear regulations in place to bring insects into such supply systems without them turning into a more expensive version of poultry for food, or soya for feed,” says Dobermann.
Tasty morsels: Schistocerca gregaria, aka desert locust, munching on laboratory salad; (at top) Gryllus bimaculatus, aka African or Mediterranean field cricket
The review highlights how insects have been a source of food for hundreds of years in more than 100 countries with over 2000 edible species; in central Africa, up to 50% of dietary protein has come from insects, with their market value higher than many alternative sources of animal protein.
Insects need to be large enough to make the effort of catching them worthwhile and easy to locate, preferably in predictably large quantities. They are consumed at various life stages, as raw, fried, boiled, roasted or ground food.
Popular species for consumption include beetles (Coleoptera, 31%); caterpillars (Lepidoptera, 18%); bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera, 14%); grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (Orthoptera, 13%); cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers, scale insects and true bugs (Hemiptera, 10%); termites (Isoptera, 3%); dragonflies (Odonata, 3%); and flies (Diptera, 2%).
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) provides strategic funding for Rothamsted Research.
For an image to accompany this release, see Rothamsted Flickr
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About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit https://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
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The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.