Edible insects provide food for thought at UN-organized meeting

19 February 2008

Experts from around the world have gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at a meeting organized by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to discuss the human consumption of insects, some of which have as much protein as meat and fish.

Experts from around the world have gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at a meeting organized by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to discuss the human consumption of insects, some of which have as much protein as meat and fish.

While the thought of eating bugs may turn some people off, it is very common in some parts of the world and even considered a delicacy. Beetles, ants, bees, grasshoppers and crickets are some of the most widely enjoyed of the over 1,400 insect species eaten by humans worldwide.

FAO says that at least 527 different insects are eaten across 36 countries in Africa, while insects are also eaten in 29 countries in Asia and 23 in the Americas. In Thailand, almost 200 different insect species are eaten, and vendors selling insects are a common sight throughout the country.

This week’s workshop, organized by FAO and Chiang Mai University, will examine the commercial and nutritional possibilities offered by insects, as well as the potential for developing them in the Asia and Pacific region. Participants will discuss issues such as collection, harvest, processing, marketing, and consumption of insects.

According to FAO, some insects, in their dried form, have twice the protein of raw meat and fish, while others, especially in the larval stage, are also rich in fat and contain important vitamins and minerals.

Although most edible insects are harvested from natural forests, very little is known about their life cycles, population dynamics and commercial and management potential, according to Patrick Durst, senior FAO forestry officer.

“Among forest managers, there is very little knowledge or appreciation of the potential for managing and harvesting insects sustainably,” he noted. “On the other hand, traditional forest dwellers and forest-dependent people often possess remarkable knowledge of the insects and their management.”

In addition to their nutritional value, edible insects have the potential to provide income and jobs in rural areas for people who capture, rear, process, transport and market the insects. “Opportunities also exist for improved packaging and marketing to make edible insects more enticing to traditional buyers and to expand the market to new consumers, especially in urban areas,” said Mr. Durst.

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