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Research and policy priorities for edible insects

Abstract

Global communities increasingly struggle to provide ample healthful food for growing populations in the face of social and environmental pressures. Insect agriculture is one underexplored and innovative approach. Sustainable cultivation of nutrient-dense edible insects could help boost food access, support human nutrition, and mitigate key drivers of climate change. The edible insects industry is in its nascent stages, as relatively few entities have committed resources towards optimizing farming methods. Nevertheless, insect farming is poised to benefit food insecure populations, and the planet as a whole if more targeted research and conducive policies are implemented. The purpose of this paper is to outline the state of the science regarding edible insects, define a research agenda, and recommend policy action to support the growing industry. Edible insects are not a panacea for current challenges, but they have the potential to confer numerous benefits to people and the environment. Rigorous research is needed to establish optimal farming methods, strengthen food safety, understand health impacts of consumption, explore consumer acceptance, tackle ethical considerations, and investigate economic viability. A clear definition for insects as food, industry guidance support for obtaining generally regarded as safe designation, and collaboration by industry stakeholders to develop production standards will also help move the industry forward. Generating and galvanizing knowledge sharing networks, investing in critical interdisciplinary research, and advocating for conducive policies that support emerging entrepreneurs will be necessary to capitalize on the benefits of edible insects in the future.

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Fig. 1

Sources: Insects data from (Finke 2002); beef, chicken, and eggs from (USDA 2018)

Fig. 2

Sources: Insects data from (Finke 2002); beef, chicken, and eggs from (USDA 2018)

Fig. 3

Source: Oonincx and de Boer (2012)

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Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Robert Nathan Allen, Kevin Bachhuber, Gabe Mott, Dr. Dean Stull, and Justin Butner who shared their industry insight with the authors. We also thank Dr. Maggie Grabow and Tobias Lunt for their editorial suggestions.

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Correspondence to Valerie Stull.

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Stull, V., Patz, J. Research and policy priorities for edible insects. Sustain Sci (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-019-00709-5

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Keywords

  • Sustainable food systems
  • Edible insects
  • Entomophagy
  • Alternative protein
  • Agriculture
  • Policy