High in protein | Insects are environmentally friendly and more sustainable than livestock farming
SASKATOON — Eating insects may not appeal to many westerners, but they are commonly eaten in other parts of the world.
Flies, caterpillars, ants, worms and beetles do not take up much space and are easy to raise, said Kaori Inside, a former editor with the online news service All About Feed who is now based in Japan with TNO, a food and pharmaceutical research company.
Insects are part of the traditional diet for two billion people and are sold in local markets in southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America, Nishide told the Western Nutrition Conference held in Saskatoon Sept. 24-26.
“It has been done since the ancient times, and there are 1,900 species eaten,” she said.
Most edible insects are harvested on small, family run insect farms as opposed to large commercial enterprises. More research and development are needed in this area, she added, because current production systems are expensive and quality controls are required.
Many people are familiar with chocolate coated insects.
“This is perfectly eatable … and there is scientific evidence these are perfectly healthy and nutritious,” she said. “Environmentally speaking, economically speaking, it is sustainable and even better than livestock farming.”
Insects are comparable in protein content to soy meal or fish meal for livestock feed formulas.
“Why not substitute that with fish meal which are now getting less and less in their availability,” she said.
An international co-operative of 15 companies, universities and government agencies based in the Netherlands was formed earlier this year. All are interested in using insects and larvae as a protein rich resource for feed, food and the pharmaceutical industry.
Nishide said alternatives are needed as the world’s appetite for meat and dairy grows.
The world consumed 14 million tonnes of beef and 21 million tonnes of pork in 2000, which is expected to increase to 39 million tonnes of beef and 56 million tonnes of pork by 2030. Chicken consumption will exceed 82 million tonnes, up from 30 million tonnes.
However, prices are also going up, and consumers need affordable and nutritious alternatives.
For example, Canadians spent 32 percent of their food bill on eggs, dairy, meat, processed meat and poultry in 2011. In Japan, 22 percent of the food budget was spent on dairy, eggs, meat and seafood.
As well, consumers waste more as they spend more, to the tune of 1.3 billion tonnes per year.
For example, people follow sell-by dates, even though they are really meant for retailers’ stock control. They throw the product away if they notice the expiry date has passed by even a day.
“That is nonsense. It is still eatable,” she said. “We don’t plan to use up all food in a refrigerator, and we don’t finish a plate while we are eating out,” she said.
She suggested that portions should be smaller in restaurants, and leftover food should be recycled as animal feed.
Eco-feed in Japan consists of ingredients such as bread crumbs, noodle waste, soy sauce, tofu cake, large crops, leftover ready-made meals, used oil and cut up vegetables. These are silaged, dehydrated or turned into liquid feed.
Nishide said using more byproducts from meat processing is another way to supply more food.
Researchers and the meat industry should emphasize the development of more soup stocks, further processed products, pet food, lard and tallow for food and feed.
They need to promote the higher use of byproducts around the world and educate people about their safe use and value as good sources of energy and protein.
“The risk that we perceive as humans from what we feel is safe is a totally different thing from a scientifically proven risk,” she said. “That should be clearly communicated.”
People also need to accept technology like transgenic fish, in vitro meat and bioprinting.
Meat grown in a laboratory or in vitro meat has been studied since 2001 in 30 labs around the world.
She said growing meat from a few muscle cells is possible, but it needs to be more palatable and affordable.
Nishide’s company is researching bio-printing, in which layers of cells can be laid down to resemble real meat. The technology exists, but it is still too expensive compared to conventional meat.