Latest Nutrition, Food & Recipes News
By Peter Russell
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH
Oct. 9, 2015 -- The idea might fill you with horror, but there is a growing interest in the potential benefits of using insects in food.
So much so that the European Food Safety Authority has just carried out a risk assessment of producing, processing, and eating this alternative source of protein.
If you want to know more about whether insects are inching closer to becoming a common sight on our dinner plates, check out these frequently asked questions.
Why eat insects?
The world's population is growing, making the risk of hunger an even bigger threat around the globe. In 2011 there were 7 billion mouths to feed, and this is expected to reach 8 billion by 2024.
In 2013 the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization(FAO) released a report praising not only the nutritional value of insects, but also the benefit that insect farming could have on the rapidly increasing demand for food worldwide.
Farming insects for food would also be good for the environment, the report claimed. For instance, the production of greenhouse gases by insect farming would probably be lower than that from livestock. For example, pigs produce more greenhouse gases than mealworms.
Won't people find eating insects disgusting?
The FAO report said that while the idea of eating a worm, grasshopper, or cicada at every meal may seem strange, insects are high in protein, fat, and minerals. They can be eaten whole or ground into a powder or paste, and used in other foods.
Although they don't crop up in our Western diet, insects are on the menu for plenty of people in other parts of the world. In fact, bugs supplement the diets of around 2 billion people and have always been part of human diets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
But the report acknowledged a "disgust factor" that would make it tough to persuade people in the West to even consider opening wide for insects.
Of the 1 million known insect species, 1,900 are eaten by humans. These include beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets.
Is it safe to eat insects?
Scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conclude that any risk to human or animal health would depend on how insects were farmed and processed.
They say that in general, the risk of hazards would be on a par with other non-processed sources of protein.
The report concludes that "for both biological and chemical hazards, the specific production methods ... the stage of harvest, the insect species, as well as the methods used for further processing, will all have an impact on the possible presence of biological and chemical contaminants in insect food and feed products."
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