The consumption of insects as food, is accepted and practiced by many cultures around the world (Defoliart 1995; Nonaka 2009; Ramos-Elorduy 2009). As many as 3,071 ethnic groups in 130 countries (Ramos-Elorduy 2009) utilize insects as essential elements of their diet (Nations 2008; Srivastava et al. 2009; Yen 2009). In fact, it is estimated that as much as 80% of the world’s population eats insects intentionally, and 100% do unintentionally (Srivastava et al. 2009). Even in the United States there has been an increasing interest in entomophagy (Gahukar 2011; Nations 2008).
HIGH NUTRIENT VALUE of INSECTS: Animals are important or even the sole source of numerous necessary nutrients such as the 8 essential amino acids, vitamin B12, riboflavin, the biologically active form of vitamin A (retinol, retinoic acid, and retinaldehyde) and several minerals (Bukkens 1997; Bukkens 2005; Hoppe et al. 2008; Michaelsen et al. 2009; Singh and Singh 1991). In particular, it is broadly accepted that animal-sourced dietary protein superior to that derived from plants (Babji et al. 2010; Hoppe et al. 2008; Michaelsen et al. 2009; Singh and Singh 1991). Insects can be grown highly efficiently and in many areas not amenable to dairy cattle and, thus, help provide a robust alternative to milk as well as a potential alternative income source for farmers.
Insects present a substantial, yet extremely underexplored, alternative opportunity to provide much needed animal-sourced nutrients (Bukkens 1997; Bukkens 2005; Defoliart 1992; Gahukar 2011; Michaelsen et al. 2009). For example, insects are generally high in protein and fat at levels comparable to meat such as beef and milk (Table 2). As with beef and chicken, insects are a source of “complete” animal protein which is generally nutritionally superior to protein from plant sources (Hoppe et al. 2008; Michaelsen et al. 2009; Singh and Singh 1991). A review by Bukkens concludes that the amino acid composition of insects compares favorably with the reference standard recommended by UN FAO, WHO and UNU (United Nations University) (Bukkens 2005). Many insect species contain a higher portion of protein per 100g of dry weight (i.e. 68.7g for House Crickets) than ground beef (27.4g) or broiled cod fish (28.5g) (Gahukar 2011). Some estimate that the digestibility of flour made from insects is as high as 91% (Bukkens 1997). Insects are also particularly rich in fat (Table 2) (Bukkens 1997; Bukkens 2005; Defoliart 1992; Finke 2012; Gahukar 2011), and, thus, can supply a high caloric contribution for such energy dense foods (Table 2). In the reviews by Bukkens, all insect species were found to be a “significant source of the essential fatty acids linoleic and linolenic acid” (Bukkens 1997; Bukkens 2005). Some insects can also provide a higher caloric contribution to the diet than soy, maize and beef (Gahukar 2011). Insects are also particularly high in omega 3 fatty acids (Table 2). Additionally, many insect species are significantly higher in thiamin and riboflavin than whole meal bread and hen’s eggs (Bukkens 1997; Bukkens 2005). Retinol (a biologically active form of vitamin A) and Î²-carotene content of many insect species is also high, with levels in some species as high as 356 Î¼g/kg and 1,800 Î¼g/kg, respectively (Bukkens 2005).
SUSTAINABLE PROTEIN SOURCE: As the human population grows, it is ever more important to decrease our levels of consumption and harvesting materials from the planet and its ecosphere. The world adds about 70 million people each year. The United Nations expects the population to grow to more than 9 billion people by 2050, adding approximately twice the current population of China (Dzamba 2010; Safina 2011; Vogel 2010). Humans consume roughly 40% of the biomass that the land and the coastal seas produce (Safina 2011). Approximately 70% of agricultural land, and 30% of the total land on earth, is used to raise livestock (Steinfeld et al. 2006). Expanding the amount of land used for livestock production is neither a feasible nor a sustainable solution to cover the food/protein needs of the projected increases in population. Thus, it is important to use sources of high quality animal protein which reduce the amount of pollution, habitat destruction and abuse of natural resources.
We cannot rely on food production strategies utilizing livestock such as cattle to feed our growing population. About 70% of agricultural land, and 30% of the total land on earth, is used to raise livestock (Steinfeld et al. 2006). Insects are a promising source of high quality animal protein with a substantially lower ecological footprint than vertebrate livestock (Dossey 2013, Shockley and Dossey 2014, van Huis et. al. 2013). Increased utilization of insects in food products rather than ingredients from vertebrae livestock will significantly reduce the human impact on the natural environment, including our contribution to climate change. However, new technologies for improving food security, such as production and processing insects as human food, take some time for application on large scale, so it is important to make investments in these innovations sooner rather than later (Gahukar 2011).
Insects have numerous attributes which make them highly attractive, yet underexplored sources of highly nutritious and sustainable food. The general categories where insects provide the most substantial benefits for a sustainable and secure food supply are: 1) efficiency and 2) diversity.
EFFICIENCY: Insects can be produced more sustainably and with much smaller ecological footprint than most vertebrate livestocks such as cattle and swine (Dossey 2013, Shockley and Dossey 2014, van Huis et. al. 2013). They are very efficient at biotransformation of a wide variety of organic matter into edible insect body mass (eg: a high feed conversion ratio) (Nakagaki and Defoliart 1991; Oonincx et al. 2010).
Food input to weight increase for cattle is 7 to 1, for pork is 4 to 1, for poultry is 2 to 1 and for fish is less than 2 to 1 (Earth-policy.org, 2014; Pimentel and Pimentel, 2003, pp. 660S-663S). By contrast, crickets create approximately 1 lbs of body mass for every 1.25 lbs of feed (Table 1). The feed conversion ratio for milk is 1 to 1, however, milk is 87% water. Additionally, dry milk powder is only 30% protein. Crickets create 4.4 times more protein output per food input. (A Strategic Look at Protein, 2014; Ansc.purdue.edu, 2014) Water and landrequirements for animal-derived protein versus insect protein output are equally disproportionate. (Pimentel and Pimentel, 2003, pp. 660S-663S)
(Earth-policy.org, 2014; Pimentel and Pimentel, 2003; A Strategic Look at Protein, 2014; Ansc.purdue.edu, 2014; Waterfootprint.org, 2014; News.cornell.edu, 2014; van Huis et al., 2013)
Cows consume 8 grams of mass to gain 1 gram in weight, whereas insects can require less than two (Vogel 2010). This is partly due to insects being poikilothermic (“cold blooded”), thus using less energy for body warmth (Premalatha et al. 2011). House crickets (Acheta domesticus) have an “efficiency of conversion of ingested food” (ECI) that is twice that of pigs and chickens, 4 times that of sheep and 6 times that of steer (Capinera 2004; Gahukar 2011). This efficiency leads to less usage of pesticides on animal feed, thus providing additional environmental, health and economic incentives. Compared to all other animals on earth, insects are substantially more prolific (higher fecundity) and have shorter life spans, so they can be grown rapidly. For example, house crickets can lay 1,200-1,500 eggs in a 3-4 week period, whereas beef cattle require about 4 breeding animals for each animal marketed (Capinera 2004; Gahukar 2011). Insect production also uses much less water than vertebrate livestock (Capinera 2004) (Table 1). Insects also give off lower levels of greenhouse gases than do cows (Oonincx et al. 2010). Additionally, many insects can eat non-human food plants or agricultural byproducts, thus they don’t compete with the human food supply like vertebrate livestock such as cows, chickens and pigs.
BIODIVERSITY: The UN FAO estimates that there are well over 1,000 edible insects currently used (Vogel 2010), and others estimate that number to be over 2,000 (Ramos-Elorduy 2009; RamosElorduy 1997). There are over 1 million species described and 4-30 million species estimated to exist on earth, living in every niche inhabited by humans and beyond (Dossey 2010). With this diversity and their collective reproductive capacity, they are a lot safer bet for future food security than are vertebrate animals. Development of more diversity in animal livestock/protein sources is critical to human food security going forward. For example, since there are insects of some sort on nearly every patch of land on earth, chances are that some local species in every area can be farmed as human food without transporting non-native species into the area for the same purpose. Additionally, the large numbers of edible species mean that an insect farm affecting their initial species can likely switch to another species which is resistant, which has already been done at some US cricket farms.
CLEAN PROTEIN FROM INSECTS: Salmonella spp. and Listeria monocytogenes in samples of the following commercially farmed cricket and mealworm species: (Zoophobas morio, Tenebrio molitor, Galleria mellonella, and Acheta domesticus) (Giaccone 2005). Additionally, to date, All Things Bugs LLC has not found Eschericha coli, Salmonella sp., Staphylococcus aureus, or Listeria sp. in any of several shipments of raw frozen insects from some of the largest US cricket and mealworm farms, and coliform/total plate count is reasonably low. Also, pasteurization appears to reduce total plate count to very low and possibly nearly sterile levels. Additionally, insects are biologically more separated from humans than vertebrate livestock, so the risk of an insect viral pathogen or parasite jumping to humans is exceedingly low (van Huis et al., 2013). Thus, pathogen risk appears to be very low for farmed insects.
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