Insects: Innovation to Produce Food Proteins for an Increasing Population

Insects: Innovation to Produce Food Proteins for an Increasing Population

edible_insectsOne of the biggest challenges facing the food industry is the increase in population and the difficulty of feeding and generating sufficient protein for a world population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050. Currently, the average meat consumption in developed countries is 80 kg annually per person and 25 kg in developing countries, figure that is also growing. Meat production has a huge impact in terms of sustainability and the FAO considers that enhancing the agricultural surface area used for animal feed is not a viable option because, nowadays, 70% of these lands are intended to produce livestock. It seems clear, therefore, that addressing this challenge requires significant innovative efforts. Different companies, start-ups and research groups have already been working on it. They seek alternative models to produce proteins from plants, directly in labs or, as recommended earlier this year the United Nations organization itself, resorting to the consumption of insects or ingredients made from them. The consumption of insects is not that innovative: It is estimated that two billion people worldwide consume them and FAO considers more than 1,900 species of insects as edible. The challenge, however, is to make this food attractive in Western countries, whose populations are also the main consumers of meat. Here there are two kind of barriers, the cultural and the legislative, associated to food safety criteria and the lack of a track record in the marketing of these products, as recently remembered this article from The Guardian. Still, proponents consider that this type of food has many advantages. The following TED Talk by Marcel Dicke, professor at Cornell University, lists four of them:

  • Insects produce less waste and its production is more sustainable and less damaging to the environment.
  • Unlike animals such as pigs, they are very different from humans so viruses are not shared between them, which can mutate into more dangerous ones, as what happened with the swine flu.
  • The insects also offer an optimum conversion factor, the relationship between feed input and edible output, being with 10 kg of feed, nine kg of edible locust is obtained, compared with one kg of beef.
  • Its nutritional value is high: One kilogram of grasshoppers has the same amount of calories as six hamburgers.

    With these advantages in mind, there are already some promising projects related to the consumption of insects, for example Aspire, a disruptive social enterprise formed by MBA students from the Desautels Faculty of Management, which won the Hult Prize during this year’s competition. The challenge for the participants was to explore innovative solutions for addressing the global food crisis through a variety of lenses (distribution, manufacturing, production, technology). The proposal of the “Aspire Food Group” team consisted in improving the access to edible insects worldwide, formalizing existing informal markets and promoting innovative insect farming practices for easy access throughout the year to nutritious food, based on these ingredients, to urban slum communities. Below you have an interview with these social entrepreneurs and here an article in Innovation Excellence.   In line with the previously mentioned, Ento is a project that stems from the initiative of a group of young designers who studied at the Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. They aspire that the consumption of insects and its production in farms in the UK would be an everyday in 2020. Since now, they have started introducing their products to adventurous food consumers through festivals, catering and pop-up restaurants. They pretend to bring them in the form of fast food and ingredients consisting of edible insects to restaurants, cafes and even

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supermarkets. Currently their food is inspired by sushi both in appearance and its implementation in the western cultures and supermarkets. It also features attractive packaging, as you will see in the video below. Ento – the art of eating insects from Ento on Vimeo.   Chirp Farms, specializing in cricket protein, is another example of a company concerned in producing nutritious and sustainable food. They also hope to take advantage of the growing interest in edible insects and, to overcome the apprehension of the diners, they have turned off the insect. Its core product is cricket flour that can be used for a range of protein rich food products. So, as this documentary by the BBC asks: Can Eating Insects Save the World?

1Comment
  • Nick Rousseau
    Posted at 08:04h, 22 November Reply

    Very pleased to have joined your group and see this post. Sad that it did not attract any responses!
    The UK’s Woven Network has a stand this week at the major Food Matters Live event in Excel along with 12 insect food companies. There will be a seminar on entomophagy and two of my members are pitching in the Open Innovation Forum to major food corporations.
    We are seeing a growing interest in this emerging sector and it is being taken increasingly seriously by regulators – we expect the Novel Food regulations to cover insect-based products from January 2018 and insects for livestock feed are being accepted by countries around the world as a viable and beneficial alternative to soya or fishmeal.

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