Teamwork makes the insect dream work
Friday 20th January
Livestock farming for meat is a known environmental culprit that remains at large. Insects are a proven alternative to livestock but who are the key stakeholders to lead this change? PERTTU KARJALAINEN, CEO & co-founder of EntoCube details our respective and shared responsibilities.
The most pressing environmental challenges like climate change, soil degradation and diminishing water resources are hugely resultant from food production, especially meat. 70% of global arable land is needed to produce enough feed for the estimated 1.5 billion cows, 1 billion pigs, 1 billion sheep and 50 billion chickens fattened on grains as we speak. Meat production is responsible for emitting 20% of the GHG emissions, surpassing transportation to be one of the leading causes of climate change. To top it off, the global demand for animal protein is estimated to double in the coming 30 years.
With all that is happening, we need to start shifting our focus to insect cultivation as a necessary alternative to meat production. Insects only need a fraction of the space, feed and water required of traditional meat livestock. Compared to beef, insects only need 10% of the feed and 0.1% of the drinking water required to produce a pound of beef.
Insects also provide a solution to overcoming the inefficiencies present in our food system. In the western world, between 30% to 50% of all produced food is wasted! These streams of waste make premium feed for various types of insects and provide a channel to circulate this wasted energy back into the food system. This is especially important because this means our limited food resources would not have to compete for use as livestock feed. We could consume the grain and feed our livestock with plant matter less suitable for human consumption.
There is plenty of data to support how crucial insects are as an alternative food source. Armed with this information, we need to recognise who the important stakeholders are and what their responsibilities are in advancing and scaling insect cultivation so that they are able to successfully enter the mainstream.
The public sector
The public sector’s biggest responsibility lies in regulation and taxation and subsidy policies. Tobacco is heavily taxed because it causes diseases that ultimately results in the loss of income and incurs public costs for treatment. A lung cancer patient presumably is unable to undertake gainful employment and the state will need to fork out substantial costs in healthcare. Another example is fuel. In Finland, where I’m from, the end consumer is taxed on fuel in order to allocate the environmental cost of fuel combustion.
Despite being harmful to human health and the environment, the meat industry still enjoys massive subsidies that take many forms. This has led to the overproduction and underpricing of meat. A carbon tax should be imposed on meat products and harmful subsidies removed. This would even out the playing field for alternative proteins. The public sector should also invest in the development and deployment of new and better technologies for food production, similar to what has been done in the past with renewable energy.
Universities, research and the insect industry
The insect industry is still in its infancy. To truly leverage and harness the biological potential of insects, we need to close the gap in technology between farming insects and more traditional production animals. The best benchmarks are salmon and chicken farming, which have undergone massive efficiency gains in the last few decades.
A staggering 2,000 different species of insects are currently eaten and there is a near-infinite pool of species that could be tapped into as a source of nutrients. It will require plenty of research to find the best species and develop the technologies and processes to farm and process these insects efficiently. Another research topic is the formulation of food products based on insects or ingredients extracted from insects.
This work is well underway and breakthroughs have been made on all fronts in the past few years. It has been proven that insects can be farmed efficiently while fed on waste streams and that they can be transformed into delicious ingredients and food products.
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In the end, it is the consumers who will make or break the insect food industry. It is important that consumers appreciate the impact that their decisions will have on the environment. I am very optimistic that consumers will lead the charge as I have witnessed first-hand how over 10,000 people have smashed their mental barriers by trying beautiful dishes that featured EntoCube crickets. I also know that insects can be used in delicious meals. Consumer behaviour and food culture can certainly evolve and change. I hope that we together can create that change soon enough.
Perttu Karjalainen presented at a number of sessions during London Food Tech Week 2016. His startup EntoCube provides a sustainable solution for cultivating insects for food right at home or anywhere else, without the need for large industrial facilities. For more inspiring events, join us at London Food Tech Week 2017. Pre-register now.
Learn more about EntoCube: http://www.entocube.com/
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