The environmental sustainability of insects as food and feed. A review

Arnold van Huis*, Dennis G.A.B. Oonincx

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

With a growing world population, increasingly demanding consumers, and a limited amount of agricultural land, there is an urgent need to find alternatives to conventional meat products. Livestock production is, moreover, a leading cause of anthropogenic-induced climate change. To mediate this, more sustainable diets are needed, with reduced meat consumption or the use of alternative protein sources. Insects are promoted as human food and animal feed worldwide. In tropical countries, edible insects are harvested from nature, but overexploitation, habitat changes, and environmental contamination threaten this food resource. Therefore, sustainable harvesting practices need to be developed and implemented. We provide examples of (1) aquatic insects whose populations are threatened by pollution, (2) caterpillar species in Africa that are disappearing due to overexploitation and habitat change, (3) edible insects species that are considered pests in agro-ecosystems, and (4) edible insect species that can be conserved and enhanced in forest management systems. Insect farming can be conducted either on small-scale farms or in large-scale industrialized rearing facilities. We review the environmental sustainability of insect farming compared to livestock production. The major environmental advantages of insect farming compared to livestock production are as follows: (1) less land and water is required; (2) greenhouse gas emissions are lower; (3) insects have high feed conversion efficiencies; (4) insects can transform low-value organic by-products into high-quality food or feed; and (5) certain insect species can be used as animal feed or aqua feed. For instance, they can replace fish meal, which is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive. However, edible insect species intended for production should be screened for risks to humans, animals, plants, and biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number43
Number of pages14
JournalAgronomy for Sustainable Development
Volume37
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Edible insects
  • Environmental impact
  • Feed conversion efficiency
  • Insect farming
  • Life cycle analysis
  • Overharvesting
  • Pollution

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