Food Vision: Innovative protein – what’s bugging you?

May 7th 2014

Brigitte Alarcon

Brigitte Alarcon

I recently had the opportunity to represent the LiveWell team at Food Vision, a high-level gathering of professionals – leaders in R&D, marketing and business strategy – with an interest in food innovation. The conference welcomed excellent speakers who covered various topics ranging from industry collaboration to customer engagement to the search for sustainable protein sources. One of the presentations that most grabbed my attention under this particular topic was delivered by Professor Arnold van Huis, a Tropical Entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and looked at Insects as food: The ‘small’ answer to a ‘big’ problem.

In light of the ever increasing demand for animal proteins and the negative impacts associated with this, Professor van Huis’ – the first author of the UN book ‘Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security’ – believes that insects could contribute towards achieving sustainable food security.

Van Huis made a convincing case for the many environmental and health benefits of insects as a protein source. However, while food producers in countries such as South Africa are currently looking to invest in industrial-scale insect farming, many questions remain. Although they may be more efficient converters of vegetable protein and carbohydrates to protein than conventional livestock, the environmental impact of insects is bound to be higher than that of vegetal proteins. This could be mitigated by feeding food waste to insects but if so, how to align this with our need to reduce, rather than reuse, food waste?

Around 1,900 insect species are already eaten around the world today – a practice that is limited to tropical countries. In the EU, legislative barriers prevent the widespread consumption of insects: current legislation does not permit for insects to be used as animal feed; the slaughtering of insects (can these be considered sentient?) also remains to be addressed. Last but not least, one may wonder whether our European palate can be educated to appreciate insects enough for them to become a common meat replacement, rather than a short-lived fad that can be experienced in trendy restaurants.

In light of these many complex questions, it seems that once again a few simple changes to our diets – as embodied by the LiveWell principles – may be the easiest and quickest way to achieving sustainable food security, protect the planet and improve human health.

Brigitte Alarcon

LiveWell Policy Officer – WWF-UK

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