UN Turns To Edible Insects As Food Source
May 13, 2013

UN Turns To Edible Insects In Fight Against World Hunger

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

According to a new report from the United Nations titled “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security,” forests and the creepy crawlers that inhabit them are an underutilized source of food in the battle against worldwide hunger.

The study was conducted by the UN´s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in conjunction with Wageningen University in the Netherlands. The researchers also noted that certain insects could be cultivated more efficiently as a food source.

"Forests contribute to the livelihoods of more than a billion people, including many of the world's neediest. Forests provide food, fuel for cooking, fodder for animals and income to buy food," said Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General. "Wild animals and insects are often the main protein source for people in forest areas, while leaves, seeds, mushrooms, honey and fruits provide minerals and vitamins, thus ensuring a nutritious diet."

According to the report, more than 1,900 insect species are eaten by over 2 billion people worldwide. Among the most popular are: beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps and ants.

Many insects are richer in protein and nutrients than animal meat. For example, locusts can contain between 8 and 20 mg of iron per 100 grams of dry weight, while beef has an iron content of only 6 mg per 100 grams of dry weight.

For Americans who may be squeamish about the prospect of seeing crickets on the menu of their favorite restaurant, Eva Muller, Director of FAO's Forest Economic Policy and Products Division, said there´s no need to worry.

"We are not saying that people should be eating bugs," she said. "We are saying that insects are just one resource provided by forests, and insects are pretty much untapped for their potential for food, and especially for feed.”

To ramp up the commercial production of insects, officials say many legal and policy hurdles first need to be cleared. For example, legislation in most developed countries restricts the feeding of waste materials to animals. However, many insects feed on these types of materials that can be considered hazardous. Further research would be necessary to determine whether insects raised on waste streams are themselves unsafe. Additionally, many regulations often ban insects in food fit for human consumption.

Despite the red tape, the commercial breeding of insects could find supporters on account of the sustainability benefits it could convey. Because they are cold-blooded, insects require much less feed than cattle or other livestock. And insects produce a fraction of the environmental-damaging methane, ammonia and manure that livestock produce. In fact, insects could be used to break down the waste produced left behind by livestock operations.

"The private sector is ready to invest in insect farming. We have huge opportunities before us," said Paul Vantomme, one of the authors of the report. "But until there is clarity in the legal sphere, no major business is going to take the risk to invest funds when the laws remains unclear or actually hinders development of this new sector.”

In developing nations, insect cultivation would not be seen as an economic opportunity but as a necessity.

“Often, rural people do not have secure access rights to forests and trees, putting their food security in danger. The important contributions forests can make to the food security and nutrition of rural people should be better recognized," said Graziano da Silva.