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UN issues report recommending insects for human consumption

By Michael Krebs     May 13, 2013 in Food
Responding to global hunger concerns, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is recommending the incorporation of insects into human diets.
According to the United Nations' World Food Programme, hunger is the world's number one health risk - topping heart disease, cancer, war, and other diseases - with roughly 870 million people living in scenarios where they do not have enough to eat.
Additionally, the human population worldwide is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050.
However, current agricultural solutions - using large-scale water distribution to support livestock and plant-based products - are not projected to keep up with the swelling human population figures. And, as food becomes scarce - food and feed security will become a considerable challenge for social stability around the world.
With this backdrop in mind, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a report on Monday suggesting the addition of insects into human diets globally.
Edible insects include various species of beetles, ants, crickets, larvae, and caterpillars - and the FAO report suggests the variety of insect choices provide a notable alternative protein source for human populations currently accustomed to meat and vegetable dishes.
"It is widely accepted that by 2050 the world will host 9 billion people," the FAO report stated in its introduction. "To accommodate this number, current food production will need to almost double. Land is scarce and expanding the area devoted to farming is rarely a viable or sustainable option. Oceans are overfished and climate change and related water shortages could have profound implications for food production. To meet the food and nutrition challenges of today – there are nearly 1 billion chronically hungry people worldwide – and tomorrow, what we eat and how we produce it needs to be re-evaluated. Inefficiencies need to be rectified and food waste reduced. We need to find new ways of growing food."
The idea of eating insects, particularly among Western societies, remains a somewhat disgusting premise. Yet, there are more than 1,900 known species that have been reported as edible worldwide.
"Globally, the most commonly consumed insects are beetles (Coleoptera) (31 percent), caterpillars (Lepidoptera) (18 percent) and bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera) (14 percent)," according to the FAO report. "Following these are grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (Orthoptera) (13 percent), cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers, scale insects and true bugs (Hemiptera) (10 percent), termites (Isoptera) (3 percent), dragonflies (Odonata) (3 percent), flies (Diptera) (2 percent) and other orders (5 percent)."
Insects can also be used in animal feed, and this practice would provide further food security - as prices for feedstock have been increasing and have been putting upward pressure on agriculture products in general.
But the perception that insect diets are appropriate for Western cultures remains a challenging one to maintain.
"In the past there has been a tendency to say insects are for primitive, stupid people. This is nonsense, a misconception that must be corrected," lead author of the FAO report Arnold van Huis told The Guardian.
More about Insects, United Nations, Food, Agriculture, Starvation
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