Insects as a tool for global food security

Published on
May 19, 2014

The potential of insects as human food and animal feed to assure global food security and availability of animal proteins in a sustainable way has been the main focus of the first conference Insects to feed the world in the Netherlands. The main observation is that insects as food and feed receive ample attention and that developments are fast. Several major investments in the sector were announced during the conference. The topic is intensively discussed by regulators to prepare for these new developments.

During three days 450 participants from 45 countries representing all continents have been presenting, arguing and discussing on harvesting insects from nature, insects as food and feed, safety, legislation and policies, and on production systems, nutrition, processing and consumer attitudes including gastronomy and on environmental issues. This is relevant to mankind as a whole in the light of the rapidly growing world population. The production of food for the expected nine billion people in conditions of climate change and limited water availability, provides an important challenge in the decades to come.

The conference Insects to feed the world was a truly interdisciplinary event with entomologists, food designers, psychologists, anthropologists, business people, legislators, and representatives of international organisations.

Some main observations

  • Insects are being harvested from nature and we need more information on the species used. To expand the use of insects we cannot rely on harvesting from nature, but need to develop semi-domestication and farming.
  • Small- and large scale production can be developed in temperate and tropical regions. There are ample research questions for this development to be addressed. Scaling up and automation are important issues.
  • A major issue for regulators is food safety, and research on this is ongoing. The food and feed laws have not been developed with insects in mind and this requires rethinking.
  • For insects as feed several species have entered large scale production. There are clear environmental benefits and first applications relate to aquaculture.
  • Despite the major beneficial aspects of insects in terms of ecosystem services, the perception of insects needs attention. Top chefs are inspired by the deliciousness and this will position insects as delicacies, as they indeed are perceived in many countries where insects are consumed already.
  • Research to develop insects as food and feed should be interdisciplinary and done in international consortia because no single institution is likely to cover all aspects.
  • The private sector should be pro-active in the development of quality standards and certification schemes.
  • Governments should stimulate the developments through legislation, green deals while taking into account also nature conservation, welfare and ecosystem services.

In conclusion, the first conference ‘Insects to feed the world’ was a highly stimulating meeting that brought together very different stakeholders. This is likely to be the first of a series of conferences that will help shape an important contribution to worldwide food security.