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Insects could revolutionize world food
The larger the world population, the more difficult it is to provide everyone with enough food. In addition, there are changes in the course of climate change, which also threaten the earnings situation in agriculture. The switch to insects as feed and food could offer a way out. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is now organizing a scientific symposium at which the advantages but also possible health risks of insect food will be discussed.
According to the BfR, insects are considered "a nutritionally favorable food source" because many insects are rich in high-quality proteins and their energy value is comparable to that of meat. According to estimates by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 1,900 insect species are consumed worldwide, reports the BfR. However, the consumption of insects and the use of insects as feed for farm animals has so far not been common in Europe. Here, however, a growing public interest in insect foods could be identified.
Insects are a valuable source of food
According to the BfR, it is important to first research better possible health risks from insects as food and feed. The BfR symposium "Insects as food and feed - food of the future?" Should make a contribution here. In view of their average protein content of between 35 and 77 percent, insects are generally considered to be a very valuable source of food and they are also being discussed, for example, as an alternative to imported protein feed, such as soy, reports the BfR. The average fat content of edible insects is 13 to 33 percent, their energy value is comparable to meat and insects would also contain a lot of fiber and - depending on the species - a large number of micronutrients and vitamins.
Future of world food
According to the BfR, edible insects are considered "an ecologically and ethically sensible alternative to meat." When producing insects as protein suppliers, the ecological balance is considered to be favorable because, as animals that are warm to the touch, they require less energy than classic farm animals. It also estimates that their feed conversion efficiency is higher and that their carbon footprint is more favorable than for meat production with warm-blooded farm animals such as beef, pork or poultry, according to the BfR. In addition, the keeping and eating of insects should also be assessed as less problematic in terms of animal protection. Insects are therefore considered to play a crucial role, especially for the future of world food.
Health risk assessment required
"Insects as a food source are of increasing public interest," emphasizes Professor Dr. Reiner Wittkowski, Vice President of the BfR. It is all the more important to clarify how safe these new foods are. However, according to Prof. Wittkowski, studies on the toxicological and microbiological safety of insects have so far hardly been available. The BfR reports that the toxicological properties of the ingredients, contaminants and residues in food and feed produced from insects should also be taken into account when assessing possible health risks. In addition, the possible allergenic potential of food from edible insects must be clarified. Other important aspects are the microbiological risks and questions of hygiene in the selection, keeping and breeding of insects.
Insects widely accepted as feed
According to the BfR, insects are repeatedly discussed in public as a future-oriented, sustainable food source, because “compared to meat, the ecological, economic, physiological and ethical advantages should outweigh.” A current representative survey by the BfR, the results of which were presented at the symposium have shown that most Germans do not expect any health risks from eating insects, but would like more information about them before they would eat insects. According to the survey results, the majority of Germans accept insects as animal feed. On the other hand, acceptance as food is split. Although the high protein content is considered an advantage here, the individual disgust barrier forms a disadvantage that is often mentioned. The majority of respondents do not expect health risks from eating insects, but they would still not eat insects.
Positive coverage of insect foods
BfR continues to report on the survey results. The highest acceptance for insects as food is to be found in educated, urban men between the ages of 18 and 30 years. Regarding the media reports on insects as food and feed, the BfR explains that the majority of these have been positive in the past two years. The focus would have been on advantages such as the high protein content and its importance for world nutrition. Health risks have so far hardly been discussed in the media.
Considerable research need
The BfR explains that insects are currently assessed as novel foods in the EU under food law. The majority of the insects consumed worldwide today still come directly from nature, but in the future, industrial breeding under controlled conditions will be sought to use insects as food or feed. There is a considerable need for research here, both with regard to the technological preparation and processing steps as well as the toxicological and microbial safety, according to the BfR press release. (fp)