Editor’s Note: Every Spring, lawyers Bill Marler and Denis Stearns teach a course on Food Safety Litigation in Australia LL.M. Agricultural and Food Law Program at the University of Arkansas Law School. This special program for lawyers brings together people who are interested in our food system, from agriculture to the table. As a final project, students are asked to write an op-ed or essay on food safety, with the best to be selected for publication in the Food Safety News. The following is one of the essays for 2020.
By Nnenna Owoeye
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, “normal life” and “thinking” as we know it has been severely disrupted / affected and each sector has received a big blow. The Agriculture and Food Sector is not at all immune to this attack and, this has generated some critical thinking about the future of food. With an estimated population increase of 9 billion by 2050 and the threat of a global food crisis, “edible insects” can be a key ingredient for avoiding or navigating through the global food crisis by creating alternative food sources.
Eating insects, also known as “Entomophagy” is not entirely mainstream, but is part of many traditional diets found in more than 113 countries, including those in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, and consumed by around 2 billion people. For many people, eating insects is not a result of scarcity, or lack of access to other protein options, even in some parts of the world insects are a more expensive protein choice because they are traditional and preferred food. The relationship between humans and insects varies greatly from country to country. For some, this is a staple of culture because they recognize and appreciate their unique taste – countries like Brazil eat ant queens, Ghanaian people eat termites, (do I hear you think out loud, “the same termites that are famous for destroying homes “) – yes, same, or perhaps the most famous insect drink MezcalMexican liquor (sometimes confused with tequila), often served with worms that are ready to be swallowed. Do I feel the ick / yuck factor for some non-mainstream eaters?
Why eat insects?
Eating insects as old as humanity with several cultures around the world consume them, can be eaten whole (fried, dried or roasted) or as an ingredient in processed food products such as burger buns, pasta, snacks or even the now popular North American Cricket Powder America, which can be used like protein powder. According to the US Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “more than 1,900 species of insects are edible and rich in sources of fat, protein, vitamins, fiber, and minerals comparable to livestock that is commonly eaten”. In the past decade, the global meat industry has been questioned because it is responsible for at least 20 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions and overall, is an unsustainable practice. The inevitable conclusion is that this protein option is one of the most environmentally unfriendly ways to maintain our bodies.
Consequently, consumers globally are looking for greater enjoyment of food and beverages that feature alternative, affordable and sustainable protein sources. They increasingly choose and explore alternatives to meat and dairy products – because of faith or for health reasons, and in particular to benefit the environment and to be able to feed the world population responsibly in 2050 and beyond. The potential of edible insects cannot be reduced because they are not only a possibility of improvement for the global food crisis, they are also accessible, environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and very high in protein. The 2013 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization describes edible insects as “a good source of protein that can help sustain life”. The nutrient-rich content of insects, which, although varying from one species to another, can have up to twice the protein of beef and 1.5 times the amount of protein such as fish and poultry. Grasshopper, for example, contains between 8 and 20 milligrams of iron for every 100 grams of raw grasshoppers. Beef, on the other hand, contains about 6 milligrams of iron in the same amount of meat. Crickets are also said to produce 11 times more food than cattle, for the same amount of feed and 1000 times less water.
Edible insects, with high feed conversion and fecundity efficiency, as well as minimal space for maintenance, are certainly beneficial solutions for food insecurity now and in the future. They are an environmentally friendly food source, with a much lower carbon footprint compared to meat production and they produce less waste, with a proportion of livestock that cannot be eaten after processing around 30 percent for pigs, 35 percent for chicken, 45 percent for meat cattle and 65% for sheep. Conversely, only 20 percent of cricket is not edible.
Are insects safe to eat?
Although billions of people eat insects throughout the world and that is also food that is as old as humanity, one would expect that Western countries would be more receptive to this new food. But that is not the case, because most people in non-bug eating areas cannot get past the fact that insects are pests, are dirty and a nuisance to humans, animals and plants, and may not be safe for human consumption. have. Therefore, they are not moved by reasons that force insects into their food. The food safety aspects of edible insects are largely unknown, but there are many discourses in the food room about their possible consumption, thus requiring appropriate regulatory guidelines for the safety of human consumption. Insects such as vertebrates can contain biological agents and substances that can represent a health threat to consumers. Experts say that the risks associated with eating insects depend on the insect species, the food they consume, the environment they inhabit, and the production and processing methods adopted. This complexity is the reason consumers recommend the safety of edible insects. It is important to mention that in cases where insects are bred, they are kept in a controlled environment, where sanitation techniques are usually used, thereby reducing some hazards such as microbiological contamination. Therefore, differences in the habitat of edible insects harvested from can contribute to differences in their safety for consumption.
Do edible insects lead to the main stream?
Many still do not want insects to invite them to their plates – that is the taste they get. But, for those who embrace it in countries that do not have a culture of eating insects, security must be paramount. Europe is one of the few areas where there is no long tradition of eating insects, but that will change, because a few weeks ago the European Food Safety Authority was indicated to be edible insects in the coming weeks. If this ruling is not as expected, this will enable mass-produced insect-based foods to be available throughout the EU. Companies working in this sector have sought EU. broad approval for several years. Because edible insects are already consumed in several Western European countries such as the Netherlands which are slowly beginning to eat insects such as eating worms, grasshoppers and buffalo worms; Denmark is also quickly becoming the center of another drink – “cricket juice”. To do this, these countries, including Belgium and Finland, have taken a permissive approach to the 1997 European Union law that requires foods that are not eaten before that year to be authorized for new foods. The ruling is likely to lead to the final authorization of their sales throughout the EU as “new food” that opens up opportunities for mass production of various insect dishes that will be sold in Europe for the first time.
United States of America
The United States is still in the early stages of accepting eating bugs, because there are legislative barriers and most cultural obstacles are disgusted to eat them; some believe it is an achievement reserved for fear factor participants. However, insects are starting to make displays on menus across the country, while shops like Hotlix in Pismo Beach, California put creepy candy on the map. This is what advocates like Robert Nathan Allen of the small herd-Austin Tx say in supporting insects as a worthy part of American food “… the economy is successful, nutrition is very good and resource efficiency is far better than other parts of the food industry, even Hiyour ancestors ate it “.
The effects of COVID-19 on food systems include restrictions on the supply of meat processing and meat packaging, which leads to shortages. Consumer demand for protein has not diminished and alternatives are being considered by many. Some economists have predicted that May 2020 could be a period where consumers will have less choice when buying meat. According to Politico, consumers will see a shortage of pork, chicken, and beef on store shelves this month with the main packing factory swept by coronavirus to remain closed while the country’s large frozen meat supply is starting to decrease. The breakthroughs felt in the edible insect industry in Europe present new opportunities for the food industry and may have a rippling effect in countries like the US, which in the early days accepted insects as a decent part of our food and packaged protein. selection. The high nutritional value of insects which is higher than other protein options can close the gap left by US meat producers during this pandemic.
Are there legal barriers to insect consumption in the US?
There are significant obstacles to overcome to become part of the mainstream, one of which is the regulatory landscape related to edible insects in the US. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides oversight for the consumption of insects but not actively, current food regulations apply to edible insects. The FDA, usually responds to the investigation of edible insects by stating that insects are considered food if used for food or as food components and on the other hand regulates insects as impurities. This full and ambiguous response goes to the heart of insect intolerance as a possible food choice and has been seen by many observers as a weak acceptance of insect consumption by humans. The main barrier to effective regulation of insects for human food seems to be the FDA’s silence on insects as anything other than food defects. The agency has received questions about insects for use as human food for decades, but it still has little progress in regulating these food sources, in this COVID-19 era and with concerns about the supply of meat that is currently disturbing the US, edible insects might become worthy. selection.
What is noteworthy is the involvement of the USDA in insect farming through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) agent. For example, if you want to import new insect species that don’t currently exist in the US, you should contact APHIS.
Current attitudes towards eating insects and agricultural techniques and technology need to change if edible insects become a common food source and get the necessary legislative attention.
1 Van Huis, Arnold. Potential of Insects as Food and Feed in Ensuring Food Safety, Annu Rev Entomol Vol. 58 (1) 5663-583.
2. Committee E. S. “Risk Profile Related to the Production and Consumption of Insects as Food and Feed.” EFSA Journal 13 (10): 4257, 2015.
3 Rumpold, BA, and OK Schluter. “Nutrition Composition and Safety Aspects of Edible Insects.” Mol Nutr Food Res 57 (5): 802
4 Crampton, Liz. “Look at your flesh: Real meat shortages arise with the closure of the virus”, Politico, 23 April 2020
5 Crampton, Liz. “Look at your flesh: Real meat shortages arise with the closure of the virus”, Politico, 23 April 2020.
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