Is Insect Farming the answer to Food Security?

With the UK population predicted to grow by approximately 9 million by 2037, one of the biggest challenges arising from a growing population is ensuring that there is enough food to feed everyone. This is no longer an issue which will be associated with less economically developed countries alone. Food security is now a global issue.

In light of the prediction that global food production will need to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing population, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has produced a report that considers how insects could be part of the answer to the problem of future food security. 

The Global Food Security Programme explains the issue as:

"The challenge is to provide the world’s growing population with a sustainable, secure supply of safe, nutritious, and affordable high-quality food using less land, with lower inputs, and in the context of global climate change, other environmental changes and declining resources."

One of the solutions being considered to address the problem of food security is to farm insects for human consumption. Insects as food are considered to be a highly nutritious and sustainable alternative to meat protein.

Insects reproduce quickly, they have high feed conversion rates and the advantage of a low environmental footprint.  As a direct comparison, to produce 1kg of cricket protein requires 1.7kg of feed, to produce the same amount of cattle protein requires 10kg of feed. 

As insects begin to creep onto the menus of some innovative restaurants, and restaurants exclusively serving insects begin to appear, there is a growing demand for insects that are reared for human consumption and thus an appropriate regulatory framework is required. 

A recent white paper (the purpose of which is to introduce future policy on a particular subject) produced by New Nutrition Business, entitled "Commercialising edible insects: How to market the impossible", considers the practical challenges of convincing consumers of the benefits of entomophagy (the consumption of insects as food). The white paper also highlights the lack of a legal framework for edible insects in many countries, which is considered to be a considerable obstacle for many investors in an emerging industry.

In addition to considering insects for human consumption, the European Union is funding a project to investigate the role that insects will play in meeting the growing demand for protein in animal feed. The project is being co-ordinated by the Food and Environment Research Agency in the UK. The project is called PROteINSECT and was set up as a result of a European Parliament resolution to address the EU's protein deficit.  According to PROteINSECT, currently more than 80% of the protein requirements for livestock rearing in the European Union are imported from non-EU countries. 

Current industrial farming practices rely heavily on grain, and in particular on imported soybean, which is a major contributor to deforestation in South America, as vast areas of land are required to grow soybean. The aim of the PROteINSECT project is to replace imported protein crops with alternative European sources. Insect protein is not currently permitted as animal feed under EU law. PROteINSECT intends to propose legislation to the European Parliament for the introduction of insects in feed and food. 

At the moment there is a gap in UK legislation to regulate the production of insects as food. Insects fall under the legislation that governs the production and trade of meat from animals which is geared to livestock and poultry. Producers undertaking the 'rearing' of insects would be primary producers and would be covered by European Union Regulations governing farmers. While insects are currently not referred to in any UK or European legislation a redrafting of the Novel Foods Regulation (which sets out detailed rules for the authorisation of novel foods, ingredients and processes), which is currently underway, is likely to include them.

With the first insect farm for human consumption being opened in America and Holland this year, it is considered that it will only be a matter of time before the UK follows suit. Therefore it is vital that a legislative framework is put in place in order that growth and innovation in this emergent industry can take place.

Rachel is a member of the Agriculture team and can be contacted on Rachel.O'connor@michelmores.com or 0117 906 9308.