FAO promotes insect farming and consumption but consumers worry over regulation

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Meal of bugs

Since the dawn of time, people across the world have relished the eating of insects as food. However, with the recent efforts by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in the promotion of insect farming and consumption, the insect eating culture has become more widespread, even in countries whose perception of insects hitherto was only in terms of their nuisance value.

Deep fried silk worms Silkworm larva soup Fried rice with vegetables and worms

It’s been estimated that there are over 1,500 edible insect species, most of them harvested from natural forests. But there is a gradual shift towards insect farming for local consumption and export. The world food body believes insects could meet the protein food needs of a rapidly expanding world population projected to reach nine billion by 2050.
The implication is that the current food production will need to increase significantly if not almost double. It is feared that this would bring intense pressure on the environment owing to scarcity of agricultural land, water, fishery, forest and biodiversity resources, if a more environmentally sustainable solution to the fragile food security situation is not explored.

Roasted locusts Meal of bugs Roasted cockroaches

Another major consideration is the nutritional benefits of eating insects. Insects are believed to be rich in protein, vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids considered beneficial to human health, especially the heart. Insects are also said to have a high food conversion rate. A report by FAO used the case of cricket to buttress this assertion. “Crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein. Besides they emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock. Insects can be grown on organic waste,” FAO’s report states. Given these findings, it is believed that insects are a potential source for conventional production of protein either for direct human consumption or indirectly as protein extracts from insects. It can also serve as a source of protein in livestock feeds.

Harvest from a cockroach farm in China

Edible Insects

 Jarrod Goldin
Jarrod Goldin

Insects most commonly relished in Africa, especially in the rural areas where they are readily available, include winged termite, palm weevil larva, caterpillar, crickets, locust, grasshopper, rhinoceros, water bugs, and beetle. The larvae and pupae of honey bee are also commonly eaten as well as honey derived from the insect.

Palm weevil lavae Roasted termites Fried silkworms

Fried red ants Water bugs Roasted mealworms

There is hardly any part of the world today where insects are not eaten either as snacks, appetizer, or as part of the ingredients for other meals. There are drinks made with insects as well. In some countries, alcoholic drinks are spiked with bugs or some other insects. Those who consume such cocktail believe it invigorates the body, brings fortune and strength, or simply that it enhances the taste.
Roasted red ant, for instance, is a delicacy in Mexico, Cambodia, and many other countries in South America, Asia and Africa. Sautéed worms are commonplace delicacy in southern African countries. However, countries in Asia appear to be in the lead as far as eating insects is concerned. They even have well established insects farming ventures to meet their local culinary needs and for export. According to FAO, Thailand alone has over 20,000 registered insect farms producing 7,000 tons of food each year, with crickets and grasshoppers among the most popular varieties. Insect meals are also making inroads into the United States and Europe.

For those squeamish about insect cuisine, the flour derivative has been developed for them. In the United States, insect flour is becoming popular among consumers. The flour is used for chips, muffin, pancake and other baked foods, as well as energy bars and soups. Among the various insect, cricket appears to be the most popular because its protein is said to be as concentrated as that of beef but with less fat and fewer calories. It is also believed to be rich in calcium, zinc and vitamin B12.
Jarrod Goldin

Mealworm powder banana Ginger cricket cookies Cookies made with blend of cricket flour bread with butter icing

The owners of Entomo Farms, formerly known as Next Millennium Farms, a new insect farming venture in the United States have affirmed that the business is very lucrative. The farm, which has 5,000 square feet for mealworms and 60,000 square feet for crickets, made over $100,000 a month in 2015, that is, $1.2 million a year. Jarrod Goldin, one of the owners disclosed that most of their revenue comes from wholesaling insect flour to established brands and emerging start-ups in the United States. They also ship to private consumers across North America, Australia and Europe.

Cricket flour pancakes Cricket flour Vanilla-chocolate-chip-recipe with cricket flour

Despite its growing acceptability, consumers are still concerned about standards in the farming and processing of insects for consumption. There is no legal framework either at the international or national levels to guide the farming, processing, and selling of insects and their value chain.

Chinese scorpion vodka Cocktail laced with scorpion

With the growing craving for insect meals, countries across the world should begin to consider the issue of standards and legislation as a major challenge that should be addressed to ensure the health and safety of their citizens.

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