Insects for food and feed

We should use insects better than we’re using them now. Feed them to livestock, even eat them ourselves.

This is a hot topic at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This week José Graziano da Silva of FAO said that the ‘important contributions forests can make to the food security and nutrition of rural people should be better recognized’.

Prof da Silva urges us to consider forests more seriously. ‘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.’

Yes indeed. Still, where I’m from we don’t eat insects. Never say never, and I’ve often boasted that I’ll try anything once, but fried beetles? Caterpillars on toast? Oh dear.

I think the posh way to describe what I’m feeling now is that those foods would be ‘culturally inappropriate’. But in many places around the world, they’re very appropriate as I mentioned a few days ago. For people like me who didn’t grow up eating insects, a more attractive option would be to make insects into feed for livestock (on land or in water) or fertiliser for crops.

One way or another, watch the insects. They can be gathered from wild populations, they can be grown in cages, and you probably won’t get a lot of complaints about insect welfare. Talking of which, I value meat and I value the appropriate use of lab animals. Some of you good people who read my blog are vegetarian or vegan. I wonder how you’d feel about eating insects or eating plants fertilised with insects.

[Edit] Here’s more about the value and potential value of insects.

[Edit] My fellow blogger Henricus Peters at Learn from Nature tells us about introducing British children to edible insects. It’s good to watch the film Henricus links to there. As the old saying goes, ‘give me the boy until he is seven and I will give you the man.’ Watching that film, the saying’s true about girls as well as boys. These kids are the next generation who, perhaps, might want to cook cricket canapes.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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18 Responses to Insects for food and feed

  1. dianabuja says:

    Insects constitute an important food in most parts of Africa, often on a seasonal basis, and sometimes as a hunger food. I have a # of entries on my blog on the topic, such as the following:

    It’s very much what we are brought up to think of as ‘delicious’.

  2. while i have to admit that i wouldn’t touch a grilled spider as they do in south-east asia, i am all up for eating insects. most junk-food is a lot more disgusting, anyway. i think it’s all about how they’re cooked. the rest is pure psychology. people eat shrimp but feel icky about the prospect of eating a grasshopper or a locust, whereas there is not that much difference between the two. i also think that, as with other foods, different insects would appeal to different people. i can’t stand pork and lamb, for instance, but i like beef and venison. same would be true for insects.

    • argylesock says:

      You’re right about the emotional responses. Even offal (les abats) from familiar livestock species disgusts some people, while I find it delicious. No doubt you’re aware of Horsegate, the recent scandal here in Britain which involved horsemeat being sold as beef. I’ve no problem with eating horses, in principle, but when Horsegate broke I found myself feeling sick at my usual pork pate. There was no knowing what was in there. I’d feel the same if offered a bowl of snails (escargots) despite liking marine shellfish very much.

      • haha, yes, i am well aware of horsegate. it was big here in germany, too. i have read that frozen meat products contained no more than 1-2% of horse meat. i found the whole issue blown out of proportion. i wouldn’t want horses to be bred for meat for emotional reasons. from the health point of view, there’s nothing wrong with horse meat and the people screaming “bloody hell, what a scandal” kind of got on my nerves because they were screaming for all the wrong reasons, in my opinion. just to clarify, i don’t eat meat very often. only when i really feel like i need to. if i can i also try to buy meat from organic farmers to be sure the animals had a normal life and ate normal food. THAT worries me a lot more than anything else, actually.

        • argylesock says:

          Yes, it’s the animals’ health and welfare that bother me too. There’ve been reports that some of the horses whose meat ended up being labelled ‘beef’ may have been unhealthy, badly treated animals from Romania, their meat processed and transported across many countries until nobody knew what was in the packet. We do know that, according to DNA tests, the horsemeat content of some ‘beef’ products was 100% – notoriously, some Findus ‘beef’ lasagne was all horse and no detectable beef.

          A friend of mine who loves, and keeps, horses told me about a time she rode a horse which had been bred for meat. It was shaped like a meat animal – big meaty gigots – and it wasn’t very intelligent. That friend is vegetarian anyway but I’d have no problem eating such a horse. Like you, I’d focus on whether it had a good life and humane slaughter.

  3. Tony says:

    This kind of talk actually scares me. Climate change and ineffective land-use practices are bringing about losses in invertebrate and insect life. There is not enough of this insect soup for the rest of the wildlife, yet alone us humans.

    Thanks for listening.

    Yellow Hammer

    • argylesock says:

      Apparently, there’s great potential in insect farming. (Entomoculture? I’m not aware of an accepted term for it.) Some of the articles I’ve linked to on this blog recently have extolled insect farming as energy-efficient and sustainable, also as a feasible method for recycling waste. Maggots reared on human or canine excrement would be unsuitable for us to eat, obviously – disease risks as well as revulsion – but they could be composted and used as fertiliser.

      • Tony says:

        If it means looking after and promoting insect biodiversity, then I’m all for it. Just as long as there’s enough left for Mr. Yellow Hammer and the rest of the wildlife.

        • argylesock says:

          That sounds like conserving wild populations of insects. Indeed that’s very important.

          But I meant farming insects. Equivalent to farming fish, poultry or mammals. Here’s what Farming Futures says about insect farming

          • Tony says:

            Yes Sam that sounds a good plan. The only worry would be, if any non-native species were to escape out into the wider environment. Nevertheless, this farming process could end up a much more beneficial form of crop management too.

            • argylesock says:

              Good point. Escapees can wreak havoc from fish farms, as we know. So can parasites and dseases from the farmed fish. You’re the first person I’ve seen to consider how a parallel set of problems could arise with insect farms.

              There seems to be plenty of insect farming in France, though. A Goofle search on ‘entomoculture’ found me several YouTube clips about it. My French is almost nonexistent! – how’s yours?

  4. I am a vegan who involuntarily eats insects every time he goes for a bike ride. A little insect protein is good for body and soul whether one is vegan, vegetarian, or carnivore. And the supply is unlimited.

  5. Pingback: Why not eat insects? | Science on the Land

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