There is an “an overwhelming lack of knowledge” about the ecological sustainability of the emerging insects-as-food industry, according to researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
While insects-as-food provides environmental sustainability potential due to their nutritional qualities and feed conversion ratios, the researchers noted that there are many basic questions that need to be urgently investigated before the industry grows to ensure sustainability.
In an opinion article published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, they explore unanswered questions around insect rearing, safety, and environmental impacts, but overall are optimistic that suppliers will rise to the challenge.
“As the global demand for protein grows, insect mass rearing can play an important role in the future of food,” said first author Åsa Berggren, a conservation biologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. “We know that we can’t keep doing what we’re doing in terms of producing food and utilising the land.”
She added: “Though the industry is in its infancy, some companies are getting bigger and doing well, and the risks will come along with that.”
The researchers said that further investigation is needed into the full impact of mass rearing insects in countries where these species do not naturally occur. Other areas where study is needed include sustainable feed production, food safety, and ethics.
Since the industry is so young – Americans spent $55 million on edible insects in 2017 – and the expectation that it will take time to make insect-rich food attractive to a wider western audience, the researchers believe there is still time to conduct proper research and shape environmental policy.
“Insects have the potential to be a good, sustainable, useful food source, but it’s not as simple as rearing them and then that’s it,” said Berggren. “There is a lot of effort that needs to be put in to research.”
Last year, meat company Maple Leaf Foods bought a minority stake in edible insect producer Entomo Farms, a company which supplies cricket and meal work powders as well as roasted insect snacks to more than 50 food companies in eight countries.
Entomo’s insect powders a can be incorporated into various food products including protein bars, pasta, smoothies, crackers, and baking mixes.
At the time of the investment, Maple Leaf CEO Michael McCain said: “We see a long-term role in this form of sustainable protein delivery, both for animal and human consumption.”
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