The industrial ways of meat production is unsustainable causing deforestation, soil degradation, pollution of soil and water bodies. The animal feedlots cause severe human health issues for people living close to these confined industrial animal production units. There are concerns on use of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals that has severe effect on human and animal health. Growing population and rising meat consumption is driving disruptive innovations for alternative protein sources. Entomophagy or consuming insects offers lot of potentials to address the current concerns.
Insects are historically
consumed as food in many cultures. The consumption of insects started about 7000
years ago. The Bible mentions the food of John the
Baptist was locust and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). In Asia, Africa, Europe, central and south America’s several insects are eaten. About 2300 insect
species of 18 orders are consumed as food in 113 countries. Most of
them are harvested from wild, however few species are reared commercially. Insects
are common snacks in the streets Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and several
African countries. The most commonly eaten insects are grasshoppers,
termites, crickets, larvae, beetles, bees and ants.
Insects as food is becoming a trend now, it’s no more a poor man’s food. Edible insect industry is growing very fast in the US and Europe. In addition to food, insects are used in pharmaceutical, cosmetics, pet food and agriculture industry. The research and development on edible insects is still in its nascent stage. Both fundamental research and its application offers tremendous potential to address some of the current environmental and humanitarian challenges. It may take a while for insects to be consumed as food in the US and other countries where eating insects is not a part of the local tradition.
Insects are made into powder, commonly referred as flour that is used in snacks and nutrient bars. Insect flours has several applications as feed sources for pets, fishes, livestock and poultry. Insects can be reared using the biomass from the farm and recycled back as feed sources for livestock and pets. It perfectly blends into the concept of circular economy and regenerative systems. Insects can be reared in a low-cost simple insect farm to a highly sophisticated system with automation, sensors, robots and IoT.
Insects can also be used as
food additives. For example the dark red dye carmine is used for clothes, cosmetics
and food. The red dye of lac insect is used for cloth dying and beverage
industry.Likewise there are several applications of insects in healthcare and
Use of insect waste products
While rearing insects their
droppings commonly referred as frass that also contains outer skeleton (exoskeleton) is generated in large quantities.
Frass has an application in agriculture industry as a manure. I was involved in
advising a company for using the frass in agriculture and realized that it
cannot be used directly in commercial agriculture. However with technical
tweaks the product can be redesigned to suit appropriate soil and crop conditions.
Insects offer several
solutions to address the current challenges of food and nutrition security. Rather than focussing on 30 major staple crops, entomophagy offers diversification of food sources that not only supplements protein but also reduces the
ecological footprints. However care needs to be taken on food safety concerns.
Some insects can have poisonous products in them. For example the giant African
silkworm has thiaminase that is considered as carcinogen. People experiencing
allergies after eating grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas and wasps are reported.
Entomophagy is a sunrise
industry. It perfectly fits into a decentralized setup where people rear
insects in their houses or backyards like kitchen garden, say, ‘edible
insect gardens’. Several companies are
now producing insects at an industrial scale that has a great potential with the
rising market for alternative protein sources.