Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Could bugs, not beef, be solution to world hunger?

The solution for supplying the growing world population with needed protein may come from something a lot smaller and a crunchier than traditional livestock: insects. "As the global population booms and demand strains the world's supply of meat, there's a growing need for alternate animal proteins," Marcel Dicke and Arnold Van Huis, professors of entomology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, write for The Wall Street Journal. "Insects are high in protein, B vitamins and minerals like iron and zinc, and they're low in fat. Insects are easier to raise than livestock, and they produce less waste." Insects are already eaten in most of the developing world with their taste most often described as "nutty." (Graphic by John S. Dykes)

When Dicke and Van Huis began promoting insects for human consumption in the Netherlands in the 1990s people laughed, but the scientists report an uptick in interest in their crusade. "In 2006 we created a 'Wageningen, City of Insects' science festival to promote the idea of eating bugs; it attracted more than 20,000 visitors," they write. Three Dutch companies that normally produce feed for zoo animals have begun production lines to raise locusts and mealworms for human consumption. Dicke and Van Huis note "now those insects are sold, freeze-dried, in two dozen retail food outlets that cater to restaurants" and "a few restaurants in the Netherlands have already placed insects on the menu."

Despite their reputation for being dirty and carrying diseases, less than 0.5 percent of insects are harmful to humans. The scientists caution that eating bugs straight out of your back yard is not recommended, but note "When raised under hygienic conditions ... many insects are perfectly safe to eat." Unlike some livestock that can transmit disease to humans, insects and humans are so dissimilar that the risk of disease transmission is much lower. The scientists note insects, since they are cold-blooded, require less feed than livestock and they produce less waste. "The proportion of livestock that is not edible after processing is 30 percent for pork, 35 percent for chicken, 45 percent for beef and 65 percent for lamb," Dicke and Van Huis write. "By contrast, only 20 percent of a cricket is inedible." (Read more)

No comments: