“Cultivating” insects, the solution to ensuring food security for mankind?

Christophe Lavelle, National Museum of Natural History (MNHN)


In January 2021, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its first assessment of food products derived from insects. Its experts evaluated the suitability Safety of eating dried mealworm larvae (Tenebrio molitor), are called mealworms because of their taste for cereal flours.

The consumption of insects is also in the heart the cloud, a French film directed by Juste Philippeot. The story of a farmer, a single mother with two dependent children, decides to take up insect breeding or apiculture. But not everything goes as well as it could, and against the backdrop of attacks by swarms of carnivorous locusts, the scene quickly turns fantastical.

Released in the summer of 2021, the work was talked about: it was selected for Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival 2020, winning both the Critics’ Prize and the Audience Prize. 28ᵉ Gérardmer Fantastic Film Festival.

A chance to be surprised: what insect farming can create A sustainable solution to ensure food security for humanity?

More than two billion people already eat insects

Results of the EFSA assessment There are obvious: the consumption of “fresh food”, which produces larvae Tenebrio molitor is safe. However, experts point out that people who are allergic to shellfish or dust mites may be sensitive to mealworm products.

News that may not be news to some of our fellow humans: In various places on the planet, insects are already a source of food. In Asia, Latin America, or Asia, many people traditionally eat insects. Grasshoppers, ants, beetles, adults or larvae… About 2000 species are the delight of 2 billion individuals.

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This consumption of insects, or entomophagy, is however struggling to take off in other parts of the world. It repels because it does not fit into any cultural practice. In our refined and urbanized Western societies, insects are actually viewed as carriers of disease rather than vermin, dirty and unpleasant, sources of gluttony.

Is it necessary to give up the idea of ​​raising insects for food if it proves impossible to change the mindset? Unnecessary.

Raising insects to feed animals

Feeding insects to the animals we raise: this is already a more promising and acceptable option for Westerners than for us. In fact, it is estimated that within 10 years, the demand for animal protein will be at least 50% higher than it was 10 years ago.

However, meat and fish production is resource-intensive, especially protein, which must be found in large quantities Intensive cultivation of soybeans (for livestock feed) Or intensive fishing of fish that is reduced to flour for feed…farmed fish (25% of the world’s fishing is intended for aquaculture, and we are already seeing the consequences. Depletion of fisheries resources)

So the solution to detect these proteins in insects seems perfect. Strong, resource-intensive (they can eat a variety of animal or plant waste), insects provide biomass (proteins, but also lipids and chitins, molecules of the carbohydrate family that make up their shells). Low environmental cost.

But that’s not all…because insects, through their waste, provide nitrogen-rich material. Create natural fertilizers that feed crops. However, be careful: the plants produced in this way are not strictly “vegetarian”, as they are based on the supply of nitrogen from animal farms, as are those that use fertilizers of animal origin (slurry, manure and others).

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A growing market

Today, therefore, insect farms are emerging, and the world leader is French: it is the Ÿnsect company, recently Raised over $400 million. She should “Ÿnfarm” to open in second half of 2022The world’s largest vertical farm (40,000 m2(in Picardy) produces more than 200,000 tonnes of products per year based on mealworms alone.

Elsewhere, others rely more on locusts: in Thailand, 20,000 domestic cricket farms produce an average of 7,500 tonnes of insects per year., intended for both personal consumption and sale. In the US, a few companies are trying Improves the taste or nutritional properties of these insects Hoping to convince consumers. According to some predictions, a global market for edible insects could be reached 8 billion dollars and 730,000 tons by 2030.

From science to science fiction

Are these new farms supposed to be scary? Can we imagine many locusts escaping and attacking humans as the picture suggests? the cloudNot without mention Birds Hitchcock’s? No, and for one simple reason: grasshoppers are strictly herbivores!

Also, although they adopt the carnivorous diet of their grasshopper relatives, the mandibles of these insects are too weak to inflict serious injuries on us or even cut our skin.

However, locusts do not necessarily become carnivores to claim many human victims: swarms of locusts, It destroys the cultures of East AfricaThreatens thousands of people with the real threat of starvation.


Christophe LavelleMolecular Biophysics, Epigenetics and Food Researcher, CNRS UMR 7196, Inserm U1154, National Museum of Natural History (MNHN)

This article has been republished Conversation Under Creative Commons License. Read onOriginal article.

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