How will we feed our planet in 2050?
One of the most critical challenges of our time is the finite nature of natural resources. This a challenge that requires a revolution in many ways, as indicated by the six transformations needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
As for transformation number four, the goal will be to produce enough food to feed more than 9 billion people who will populate the Earth in 2050 and grow exponentially.
Already several solutions are addressing this increasingly imminent need.
According to the FAO, more than 2 billion people consume edible insects, which are an integral part of the culinary and cultural habits of countries such as South America, Asia, and Africa.
Japan, Australia, and the United States have also chosen to popularize insect consumption in recent years: commonly consumed products such as pasta, energy bars, and snacks made from insect meal are available on the market.
In January 2021, and more recently in February 2022, the European Commission authorized the marketing of the following insect species:
- Tenebrio Molitor (flour moths). Tenebrio Molitor larvae are the first insect-based novel food approved in the EU. Dried, frozen, and powdered (EU reg. 2021/882, EU reg. 2022/169);
- Locusta migratoria. Frozen and dried preparations based on locusta migratoria were authorized as a novel food by EU reg. 2021/1975;
- Acheta domesticus (domestic cricket). Whole and ground, frozen and dried domestic crickets authorized by EU reg. 2022/188.
- The news these days, Oct. 20, 2022, concerns EU approval of the species Alphitobius diaperinus in frozen and freeze-dried form.
Human food use is permitted under the EU Regulation on Novel Food, which covers food products or substances for which “significant” consumption cannot be demonstrated in the European Union until May 15, 1997. The authorization is based on the scientific evaluation of the candidate’s novel food safety by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) based in Parma.
In addition to the regulatory aspects, we now offer an overview of the topic’s benefits and issues.
How are insects bred?
This process currently involves a high need for manual labor, so mass production of insect protein is expensive in Europe; in fact, the selling price is comparable to that of meat. To make this production more competitive, it is necessary to develop breeding, harvesting, and post-harvest processing techniques that include safety and quality monitoring.
In addition, insects need to be selected for size, social behavior, safety, epidemic trends, reproductive and survival potential, nutritional and storage benefits, and marketability to achieve maximum meat and/or protein yields.
Therefore, more in-depth studies on the subject by experts are needed.
In Italy, insects are already being raised for food purposes, such as Alia Insect Farm, an innovative start-up established in 2020, whose goal is to overcome people’s initial distrust related to cultural and aesthetic aspects to appreciate all the nutritional and environmental benefits.
Alia Insect Farm is one of the members of Ipiff, a nonprofit association representing producers of insects for food and feed purposes.
What is the environmental impact of insect consumption?
The environmental impact of insects is small compared to that of farm animals; they have a high feed conversion efficiency. To produce 1 kg of meat, on the other hand, 7.7 kilograms of feed is required for beef, 3.6 kg for pork, 2.2 kg for chicken, and 1.7 kg for cricket meat (Rumpold, Schlüter,2012).
Moreover, insects are cold-blooded animals and, therefore can extract moisture from food without requiring drinking water; this reduces their water footprint.
They are considered “environmentally friendly” animals because they produce low GHG emissions (Chart 1 Average GHG production per kg of body mass for three edible insects, pigs, and cattle) and require minimal breeding space. Waste derived from insect production is a valuable source of organic fertilizer that can be used in crop production, thus creating a virtuous circular economy.
But Are Insects Good for Our Bodies?
Some species are rich in essential amino acids, such as phenylalanine and methionine, which are necessary because our bodies cannot synthesize them, so they must be supplemented in the diet. However, the high nutritional value of insects is strongly correlated with the composition of the dietary diet, so it is essential to investigate this issue further to optimize yield and minimize costs.
Particular attention must be paid to certain insect species: many species can develop allergic reactions, while others are not even edible. In this article, we have addressed only a quick survey of the main issues involving the possible consumption of edible insects as a sustainable source of protein for human and animal nutrition.
This topic is being studied and debated nationally and internationally. Hence, it is not out of the question that we will soon return to the subject of insects, with the hope that in the meantime, experts can further investigate the benefits of consumption and the advantages for the environment.
What about you? Would you be ready to overcome the “disgust factor” dictated by our social and cultural experiences?