Insect protein, an alternative to animal protein?

You will take a small skewer of crickets? Indeed, the nutritional and environmental qualities of insects are increasingly being touted. So, is it interesting to jump into the water?

A global food issue

The current evolution of the world’s population correlated with the increasing consumption of animal proteins puts the population face a nutritional and ecological stalemate. To feed – and above all better feed – all the inhabitants of the planet, alternative solutions must therefore be put in place: valorization of proteins of plant origin (cereals, legumes) and development of alternative solutions, particularly animal husbandry. large-scale insects, as recommended by the World Health Organization since 2013.

Insects, what assets do they represent?

  • Nutritional interests

These small animals are very good sources of protein (45 to 75% of the dry weight), omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and minerals: iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, selenium, etc. Depending on the species and the diet of the insects, some of these contents can go as far as covering 100% of our daily needs in certain micronutrients.

  • Environmental interests

On this aspect, insects also do well. Insect farming has a low environmental and water footprint compared to traditional farms. Just 2kg of food to produce 1kg of insects, when you need 8 for the same amount of beef. In addition, the breeding of insects produces very little greenhouse gas and is able to use in closed circuit organic waste produced by other animals.

  • Other interests

Many compounds derived from insects can be exploited: natural dye (cochineal red) or degradable plastic (chitin, biopolymer for the preparation of biomaterials). They are also essential for pollination. 

Are there dangers to eating insects?

When consumed in the wild, insects can carry parasites or bacteria, especially if they are eaten raw or only freeze-dried. Insects can also be toxic as a result of drugs, pesticides or organic matter. They also contain certain antinutritional factors (phytic acid, tannins, …) that can impact their nutritional quality. These points are the subject of increasingly rigorous prophylactic measures in parallel with the structuring of the farms.

Where to find

Despite regulations that do not yet allow the democratization of their marketing in France, internet is full of insect meal and dried insects to consume during the aperitif or in the form of derivatives (pasta for example). The current regulations concerning insects belong to the texts of the Novel Food (Regulation No. 258/97 of the European Commission). These European regulations are still vague as to the use of insects for human purposes, but allow it for animals.

Despite their definite interests, the cultural barrier remains a major obstacle to the consumption of insects in France. However, with regard to global food issues, the temptation to advise them is obvious …. So, future gastronomes entomophages, good tasting  😉.

For those who wish to prolong the reflection and discover the complete file, it is here!

 

I imagine you already make a face just reading the title …. And yet, hang in there, because the subject is serious and it is worth it. While a few years ago, a pizzaiolo Breton was on the newscast to present his pizzas to insects, we can now share an aperitif around crickets paprika, cook twists crickets or afford a high protein bar with worms as a sport snack. Convinced of the interest that this topic represents for years, I had the opportunity to exchange or meet each of the actors mentioned in this article. They all have one thing in common: they are convinced of the opportunity that insect consumption represents in global food issues, far beyond marketing standards. For my part, the interest for the subject started in the mazes of a Peruvian market, where for the first time I was confronted with the delicate choice to taste a skewer of grilled worms … My curiosity for this new dish was then fueled as much in terms of personal experience as on the professional side. Because yes, this is indeed a global issue. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been recommending large-scale insect farms since 2013.

 

1) How is insect consumption a global food issue?

This is unfortunately an obvious fact: in view of the evolution of demography and the current trend of the world population to increase its consumption of animal proteins, we are heading irreparably towards a nutritional and ecological impasse if our eating habits do not change. not. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), world consumption of animal protein has doubled in less than 50 years and is expected to increase by 70% to feed the world’s more than 9.6 billion people by 2050. Beyond the effects of these dietary changes on health, the ecological impact of such intensive farming represents a major global challenge. The economic and demographic projections highlight, that in the current state of resources and knowledge on their exploitation, the generalization of the consumption level of the animal proteins of the richest countries can not be maintained in the long term considering its consequences on the environment. Alternative solutions must therefore be found, in particular the valorization of vegetable proteins and the development of alternative solutions, including the consumption of insect proteins. Because unlike beef or pork, you can eat and breed insects around the world easily, all in a small space and with a minor ecological footprint compared to conventional farms. the generalization of the level of consumption of animal protein from the richest countries can not be maintained in the long term given its consequences for the environment. Alternative solutions must therefore be found, in particular the valorization of vegetable proteins and the development of alternative solutions, including the consumption of insect proteins. Because unlike beef or pork, you can eat and breed insects around the world easily, all in a small space and with a minor ecological footprint compared to conventional farms. the generalization of the level of consumption of animal protein from the richest countries can not be maintained in the long term given its consequences for the environment. Alternative solutions must therefore be found, in particular the valorization of vegetable proteins and the development of alternative solutions, including the consumption of insect proteins. Because unlike beef or pork, you can eat and breed insects around the world easily, all in a small space and with a minor ecological footprint compared to conventional farms.

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2) You are entomophagous without knowing it

Far from being considered an emergency food source in case of famine, insects are a staple food for many populations. Mopane caterpillars in southern Africa, or weaver ant eggs (Ocophylla smaragdina) in Southeast Asia, are even considered as delicacies. According to the FAO, nearly 2.5 billion humans regularly eat insects worldwide (1) , particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In 2014, 2086 insect species were consumed worldwide, across 130 countries and 3071 ethnic groups (2). Traditionally developed in rural populations, entomophagy has gradually spread to cities, mainly to the poorest urban populations. The collection of insects has given way to an industry of mass production of edible insects, especially in Thailand (3)  : crickets, locusts, grasshoppers, bees, wasps, ants, weevils, longhorn beetles, caterpillars, termites or even water bugs (4, 5) . This is enough to feed the shopping list of rare French consumers of converted insects or just looking for new sensations as an aperitif.

Far from being anecdotal, the western production of insects is structured and a real sector is set up, raising a series of ethical, sanitary and regulatory issues. Even if our Western cultural precepts are sometimes shocked, the consumption of insects is now well and truly part of your daily life. Although codex alimentarius standards prohibit the presence of living insects in plants, they allow insect insects up to 0.1%. The entomologist Marcel Dicke of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands estimates between 500g and 1kg annual involuntary consumption of insect fragments, especially in products made from flour (bread, pasta, biscuits, etc.). ), chocolate, fruits and fruit and vegetable juices. This point makes it possible to explain in part the reasons why Asian vegetarian populations do not suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency, the only vitamin present exclusively in the animal kingdom. You will no longer look at your chocolate bar the same way now …

 

3) The advantages of insects

Many factors argue for a significant increase in global insect consumption over the next few years, particularly because of their nutritional and environmental interests.

  • Nutritional interest

Insects can be important sources of protein with constitutive amino acids adapted to human needs, lipids and micronutrients (6.7). Thus, considering the dry matter of the insects, some species can contain from 45 to 75% of their dry weight in the form of proteins. The contents and the amino acid composition however appear very variable depending on the species, some insects being for example methionine poor unlike meat. Studies on the digestibility and conversion efficiency of amino acid content are currently underway to clarify the value of insect proteins in comparison with animal proteins. Regarding the lipid intake, the variations are also important: the insects contain between 7 and 77% of fats in relation to the dry weight according to their origin and their diet, the most important levels being those of the larvae and nymphs. Interesting point: the nature of these fats. In fact, the constituent fatty acids are essentially present in polyunsaturated form (omega 3 and 6), unlike pork or beef(8) . In terms of micronutrients, insects are not micro-sources! Indeed, 100g per day of certain species can cover all the needs in Iron and Zinc, but also in Magnesium, Copper, Manganese, Selenium and Phosphorus. Again, levels vary by species, stage of development, and diet, but such composition is a definite asset in meeting micronutrient requirements, particularly in developing countries (9,10). . Mineral content also varies with insect species, stage of development, and diet (11, 12, 13). With regard to vitamin intakes, the data are very variable, but a rigorous selection of the species could also make it possible to cover the needs, in particular by enriching the feeding of insects with these vitamins (14) . A recent study, dated 2015 (15) , compared the nutritional composition of our current meat (beef, pork and chicken) with different species of insects. The tables resulting from their analyzes highlight the micronutritional interest of an insect consumption.

 

Insect table

 

In conclusion on the nutritional part, insects are undeniably a particularly interesting food source in proteins, polyunsaturated fatty acids and minerals (iron, zinc, magnesium). However, many factors can modulate their composition, especially climate, food, habitat, method of preparation or methods of analysis (16, 17, 18, 19).. These contents are also to be qualified by the low weight of the insects, but such a concentration allows a significant coverage of the nutritional needs, by the simple consumption of some insects. The latter also contain compounds that may be of nutritional interest, in particular chitosan, glucosamine and chitooligosaccharides. Finally – and it is serious – the mode of slaughter insects can change their nutritional value: while the freezing denatures little nutritional quality, scalding is meanwhile responsible for a partial denaturation of proteins and a loss of heat-sensitive micronutrients, even if the latter method seems safer at the health level.

  • Environmental interest

In terms of the environment, insects also stand out. Insect farming has a low environmental and water footprint compared to traditional farms. The work of Oonincx and Boer (20) aimed to quantify the ecological footprint of a Netherlands-based cellar beetle ( Tenebrio molitor) , through a life cycle analysis, identifying all processes related to the production cycle (food manufacturing and transportation, fertilizer, energy, etc.) and taking into account the global warming potential, the use of fossil energy and land use. According to the authors, for two of the three parameters studied, the production of Tenebrio molitorappears to be less environmentally friendly than soybeans, but more so than conventional animal production. In addition, the insects have a feed conversion index (amount of feed required to produce a weight increase of 1 kg) that is high compared with warm-blooded animals from conventional farms (21) . On average, 2kg of feed is needed to produce 1kg of insects, while cattle require 8kg of feed to produce 1kg increase in animal body weight.

Similarly, the production of greenhouse gases by most insects appears to be less important than that of livestock: for example, pigs produce 10 to 100 times more greenhouse gases per kilogram of insect. This point is far from negligible when it is known that, at the world level, beef and dairy products are responsible for the majority of total emissions produced by farms, 41% and 20%, respectively. while emissions from pig and poultry production (flesh and eggs) reach respectively 9% and 8% of total emissions produced by farms (22). Apart from cockroaches, termites and beetles, insects do not produce methane because of the absence of digestive system. According to FAO, agriculture consumes up to 70% of the water extracted from groundwater, rivers and lakes. To cope with the growing demand for food, this fraction is expected to increase by 14% between 2000-2030. And unlike conventional farms, the breeding of insects requires very little additional input compared to the water already contained in food (22, 23). Finally, and this is an essential point in the context of the prospect of an intensification of the breeding of insects, the latter can feed on organic waste (food and human waste, compost, slurry, etc.) that can be processed into high quality proteins for use in livestock feed or farmed fish. Such a breeding represents a particularly interesting ecological solution. Several projects to optimize the bioconversion of organic waste by flies have thus emerged in Switzerland, the United States, China, South Africa and Spain.

  • Other assets

Like bees, insects are indispensable for pollination and biological control. Products from the hive (propolis, royal jelly, honey) are foods traditionally used for their nutritional and therapeutic properties. The natural color of insects, such as cochineal red, was used by the Aztecs as a dye and is still used today by the agri-food industry.

Chitin is a biopolymer naturally present in crustaceans, but also in the carapace of insects which then has a specific structure. Chitin can thus be used for the preparation of biomaterials, such as coatings and degradable plastics.

On the socio-economic side, the collection and rearing of insects can also provide important livelihood diversification strategies for developing countries, particularly because of their ease of farming in their natural state. and the small financial investments needed. Serge Verniau, former head of the FAO, was one of the first to carry out the project of development of the breeding of insects, by working brilliantly for the development of the local breedings and their positive economic impact.

 

4) Are there dangers to eating insects?

Health authorities highlight two main types of risk. Risks that are specific to the species – presence of microbial hazards, foreign bodies, toxic substances, anti-nutritional substances or allergens – related to farming, processing or storage conditions and transport. The main dangers appear related to the presence of toxic substances made by the insect such as stinging substances, venom or darts themselves. Insects can also be secondarily toxic due to the accumulation of plant toxins, veterinary drugs, pesticides, organic pollutants or heavy metals. Cadmium was thus detected in the larvae of the mealworm (Tenebrio molitor) (24), lead in grilled crickets in Mexico (25) or arsenic in a lepidopteran consumed by aborigines in Australia (26). The consumption of contact materials, when the larvae nibble, for example plastic, also represents a risk to be controlled in breeding conditions. Some insects also have significant levels of antinutrients (phytic acid, oxalates, hydrogen cyanide, tannins, thiaminase, etc.). Chitin and one of its derivatives, chitosan, can also be considered anti-nutritional factors. In addition to the fact that chitin is little or not digested by animals whose digestive system is often free of chitinase, this molecule can bind to lipids and form a gel, causing a lower bioavailability by imprisonment certain vitamins and minerals. However, an EFSA opinion indicates the absence of risk for humans of a dietary supplement consisting of 90% chitin-glucan, up to 2 to 5g / day. Insects, especially those considered for mass production, may also carry bacteria or parasites, especially when consumed raw or freeze drying. Parasites were found in insect samples in a study of intestinal parasites in Southeast Asia(27) . On the other hand, insects have a low risk of transmitting zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from animals to humans) such as H1N1 (bird flu) and BSE (mad cow disease). Thus, in the context of human consumption, the conditions of choice of species, breeding, preparation and packaging of insects appear as essential health factors to consider and whose traceability must be ensured before any democratization of their marketing. It is at this price that ANSES, the French health food safety agency, estimates the consumption of insects and their derivatives as safe, as it has recently clarified through the publication of an opinion in February 2015 (28) .

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5) Can we market insects for food in France today?

This is the challenge of current regulatory debates, particularly within the European Union. Faced with the enthusiasm of industry and scientists for these prospects of intensive farming, regulation must adapt. At present, the exploitation of insects falls under several texts, including those on farm animals, animal by-products, animal feed and novel foods for humans. However, there is still no regulation specific to the breeding of insects. It must therefore be specified to allow the development of an economy based on the exploitation of insects for food. By way of example and according to Regulation (EU) No 999/2001, Insect products are not considered processed animal proteins and therefore can not be used for aquaculture, unlike other animal sources. Similarly, the use of insects in human food is covered by the European Commission Regulation No. 258/97 on Novel Foods and New Ingredients, better known as the Novel Food Regulation. However, the current regulation is imprecise since it only covers parts of animals (and not whole insects) and ambiguous. It remains a difficulty to interpret the “significant degree” of consumption prior to 1997, which founds yet this regulation. Thus, no authorization has been granted to date at European level, although some countries seem to be flexible, as in the Netherlands, from England or Belgium having authorized the placing on the market of ten species of insects. Currently, in France, no insect or insect derivative can be placed on the market for human consumption in strict compliance with the current regulations, as long as there is no European harmonization for marketing authorization on the market. the whole of the Community market has been put in place. This harmonization project should be launched in 2016. as long as no European harmonization for marketing authorization throughout the Community market has been put in place. This harmonization project should be launched in 2016. as long as no European harmonization for marketing authorization throughout the Community market has been put in place. This harmonization project should be launched in 2016.

If you venture into the jungle of the web, you can still easily make your market insects. Some dried insects are thus marketed whole for snacking, like the appetizer products offered by the companies Jiminis and micronutris, or as ingredients in the form of flour after grinding. In the latter case, several companies offer for example high protein bars, such as the brand new Londoner Getsharp or the American brand Exo. The Insectes Edibles company distributes whole insects and derived products such as pasta made from crickets and spirulina. In parallel with human nutrition, several startups have emerged to market insect meal for animal feed. The young company Ynsect has recently raised 1.8 million euros to continue its development. After having met one of its leaders, it is clear that this market is structurally solid, thanks in particular to a constructive dynamic between the health authorities and the young industries, point rare enough to underline it. In early 2016, a structure has even established its premises in France, in the Rhône-Alpes Auvergne region. A first. SFLY, located in Malaysia since its creation, specializes in the production of insects for animal feed. This company also makes a point of honor to value the waste of their insects. It is clear that this market is structurally solid, thanks in particular to a constructive dynamic between health authorities and young industries, a point that is rare enough to underline. In early 2016, a structure has even established its premises in France, in the Rhône-Alpes Auvergne region. A first. SFLY, located in Malaysia since its creation, specializes in the production of insects for animal feed. This company also makes a point of honor to value the waste of their insects. It is clear that this market is structurally solid, thanks in particular to a constructive dynamic between health authorities and young industries, a point that is rare enough to underline. In early 2016, a structure has even established its premises in France, in the Rhône-Alpes Auvergne region. A first. SFLY, located in Malaysia since its creation, specializes in the production of insects for animal feed. This company also makes a point of honor to value the waste of their insects. located in Malaysia since its creation, is specialized in the production of insects for animal feed. This company also makes a point of honor to value the waste of their insects. located in Malaysia since its creation, is specialized in the production of insects for animal feed. This company also makes a point of honor to value the waste of their insects.

Thanks to these innovative structures and to the will of a few men, regulations are evolving to offer Western consumers all the health security they need for their physiological well-being. But then there is a real question, that of a cultural order, which the regulatory authorities will not be able to answer: will our open-mindedness and our taste curiosity evolve as quickly as the global stakes of food? 

 References :

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