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Insects as food and feed, a new emerging agricultural sector: a review

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During the last five years the scientific knowledge on insects as food and feed has been growing exponentially. At the same time, the industrial sector is increasingly engaged in rearing, processing and marketing of edible insects. Considerable attention is given to the black soldier fly as it can convert organic waste streams and transform it into several feed, food and industrial products. The farming of insects has an environmental impact which is lower than that of livestock species. The profitability of industrial production of insects as feed depends very much on the availability and applicability of cheap non-utilised side-streams. Microbial communities and their relationship with insects deserve full attention as it may help in the conversion of organic side streams of low economic value. Nutrition and health benefits for animals and humans need further exploration, also considering that insects have the largest anti-microbial peptide reservoir of all animals. Plant health can also be promoted by using chitin-containing leftover substrates as fertiliser. As insects have only recently been considered as food or feed, legislation trails developments. Therefore, politicians need to be assured that rearing and processing techniques are such that insect products are guaranteed free of chemical and microbial contaminants. Consumers are becoming more and more aware that insects as food are a viable option. Insects need to be processed into ingredients, that can be applied for safe and appetising products. The insect sector is maturing fast, but still faces many challenges, which can only be met when all stakeholders closely cooperate.

Keywords: black soldier fly; consumer attitudes; edible insects; environment; food safety; health; industrial production; insects as food and feed; nutrition; processing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1Laboratory of Entomology, Wageningen University & Research, Droevendaalsesteeg 1, Wageningen 6708 PB, the Netherlands.

Publication date: February 6, 2020

More about this publication?
  • The ‘Journal of Insects as Food and Feed' covers edible insects from harvesting in the wild through to industrial scale production. It publishes contributions to understanding the ecology and biology of edible insects and the factors that determine their abundance, the importance of food insects in people's livelihoods, the value of ethno-entomological knowledge, and the role of technology transfer to assist people to utilise traditional knowledge to improve the value of insect foods in their lives. The journal aims to cover the whole chain of insect collecting or rearing to marketing edible insect products, including the development of sustainable technology, such as automation processes at affordable costs, detection, identification and mitigating of microbial contaminants, development of protocols for quality control, processing methodologies and how they affect digestibility and nutritional composition of insects, and the potential of insects to transform low value organic wastes into high protein products. At the end of the edible insect food or feed chain, marketing issues, consumer acceptance, regulation and legislation pose new research challenges. Food safety and legislation are intimately related. Consumer attitude is strongly dependent on the perceived safety. Microbial safety, toxicity due to chemical contaminants, and allergies are important issues in safety of insects as food and feed. Innovative contributions that address the multitude of aspects relevant for the utilisation of insects in increasing food and feed quality, safety and security are welcomed.
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