Farming tropical insects to feed the world in 2050

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  Deep-fried locust kebabs.CC BY 2.0

Many non-western cultures already eat insects [entomophagy]: in Thailand  & China its a common streetfood as you can see in the picture, but its an unusual  and frankly unheard of cuisine in the UK.  AS you will see though, CABI staff have an interest in entomophagy AND we have blogged about global entomophagy before [Roasted grasshopper with a sprinkling of termites].

On 18th November 2015, studio guests, and listeners, of BBC Radio 4 – Midweek were treated to the experience of eating insects as food!  Dr Sarah Beynon, an entomologist was a guest: she is on a mission to both educate the UK public on the importance of insects (including wasps and spiders) and to provide sustainable food by farming tropical insects. 

She had brought in samples of insect protein  which is on the menu at her café, The Grub Kitchen. The café  is the latest venture for her Bugfarm in Wales, which functions as  a research & education centre as well as providing dungbeetles for UK farmers to convert dung into compost! 

Guests sounded wary but chef Michel Roux Jnr pronounced the chocolate cookie made with ground cricket flour, sugar and chocolate, as “very nice” and described it as both chocolatey and having a novel “meaty” taste.  Another description was “marmity”: hardly surprising considering marmite was developed from yeast as an alternative to meat extract. 

Weight for weight, we were told, cricket flour is higher in protein than beef. 

Other delicacies available at the café include grasshoppers (taste like tea), mealworm hummus, and gourmet bug burgers containing mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers. By customer request coming soon will be burgers containing crunchy intact mealworms!

Food security for 2050: using insect protein will take the pressure off agricultural land

“WE need to look at new ways of producing food and we think this [tropical insect farming] is one of the ways of doing it” declared Dr. Beynon.

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TTIP and its potential impacts on health in Europe

Pixabay_business-361488_640Concern is rising in the European public health community about the TTIP trade agreement, an agreement being negotiated between the US and the EU Commission to reduce barriers to trade. While there may be economic benefits, the agreement could have a health and environmental cost. The public health and environmental communities think it will weaken the power of governments to make laws to protect their citizens’ health and the environment.

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E. coli O104: Should we believe them this time?

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Choose your sprouts carefully

Apparently its now thought that fenugreek seeds sourced in Egypt were the cause of the recent outbreaks in Germany and France. I suggest you read today's Update on E.coli O104 outbreaks from EFSA and draw your own conclusions.

The update tells us that the particular batch of fenugreek seeds has been withdrawn from sale and a temporary ban placed on importing fenugreek and certain seeds, beans and sprouts from Egypt. In the case of the seeds, its only if these are to be sprouted. Ground spices are unaffected.

And I quote, "evidence linking the two outbreaks to the implicated batch of fenugreek seeds is not definitive and investigations are continuing in all European countries".

Germany scores own goal…its not Spanish cucumbers!

It's not cucumbers, it might be beansprouts? E. coli O104 has killed 22 people so far, made over1400 ill and reached 11 countries. It has had a significant effect on two countries- damaging Spain’s economy and damaging the credibility of the German public health system. The fallout is broader still:  the EU – and that includes us - is now offering compensation to Spanish farmers – using a central fund. 

For the bewildered public, the clue is in the name Escherichia coli…coli, Latin for intestine; for these bacteria live in the gut of man and warm-blooded animals. Unfortunately, some strains (STEC/VTEC, see Outbreak of E. coli acronyms in Germany) produce toxins that can cause severe diarrhoea, and this is always down to someone’s lack of hygiene.
Not washing hands after defecation, using a water supply contaminated with faeces to wash or water crops or poor manure preparation. It’s transmitted because poo was on your fingers or on your food and went into your mouth!

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Why Washing Your Vegetables and Hands May Not Protect You from E. coli, Staphylococcus, Salmonella…?

Following the recent outbreak of E. coli food poisoning in Germany that claimed at least 37 lives as of 14 June 2011 and still counting, numerous articles have been written, but many fundamental questions still remain unanswered.

As you will remember, contaminated Spanish cucumbers were initially blamed for the outbreak of E. coli infection, which prompted the Spanish government and farmers to vehemently deny this claim (justifiably, as it turned out) and demand compensation.

As soon as “the Spanish cucumber story” was shown to be a false alarm, tomatoes, salad and vegetable sprouts (of German origin) were declared as potential culprits. It is unclear why other vegetables, such as peppers, courgettes, mushroom, to list but a few, were kept off the list of suspects, particularly because all the laboratory tests performed so far have been inconclusive.

As time goes by, it is less likely that the source(s) of this outbreak will be identified any time soon. However, even if a contaminated vegetable (or various vegetables) is identified and successfully linked with this outbreak of E. coli in humans, identifying the pathway of contamination may prove more difficult.

While looking for potential sources of vegetable contamination with pathogenic microorganisms, I searched CAB Direct database and came across a very interesting review published 20 years ago by German Professor Strauch of the Institute of Animal Medicine and Hygiene, University of Hohenheim, which explains how pathogens may contaminate food crops. He warned about the potential of pathogenic organisms to cross from manure or sewage into food crops and suggested that “the agricultural utilization of hygienically dubious sewage or sludge poses a risk for the whole national economy.”

In his 1991 review “Survival of pathogenic microorganisms and parasites in excreta, manure and sewage sludge” (Rev Sci Tech. 1991 Sep;10(3):813-46), Strauch also reported that two groups of researchers had found that pathogenic organisms can be taken up by crops that are used in human and animal nutrition.

Once pathogenic microorganisms are incorporated into crops (including vegetables), washing the outside of fresh vegetables is of little benefit, because all the pathogens from the sludge (bacteria, viruses and parasites) are inside the plant.

Sustainable food doesn’t mean saying no to technology

The First Sustainable Food Chain Summit last week gave a clear message that to provide food sustainably for the future we need to use technology to bridge the gap between available resources and the amount of food we need to produce. As well as recommending the use of technology, to increase shelf life and reduce waste, speakers stressed that a move to more local production, use of local breeds and local recycling is needed to reduce the environmental impact of transporting food.

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A Mangalica pig. Local breeds may be important for sustainable food.Photo courtesy Lawrence Alderson.

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