Insects on the menu

I came across a very interesting article from the French newspaper Le Monde, titled “Insects, the steak of the future”.

Photo: AFP/Mario Tama

The article reviews the potential of using insects as a food source to complement the traditional food production in order to meet the needs of the increasing world population.

Here are the main points.The nutritional quality of insects is high. They are a source of protein, fats, minerals (especially iron and zinc) and vitamins.

The production performance of insects out performs the one of traditional livestock, with a feed conversion ratio (number of kg of food to produce 1 kg of insect) ranging between 1 and 2.

There are already 1,400 species of insects consumed regularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Among the favorites, they name beetle larvae, ants, caterpillars, locusts, crickets, silkworm chrysalis, scorpions and spiders (although the two latter ones technically are not insects).

In most cases, insect consumption is the consequence of food shortage, but there is also a festive consumption of the bugs. The author mentions that in the old Roman Empire, caterpillars were a delicacy. Of course, in some Western countries, some restaurants offer insects at a premium price for a certain self-proclaimed sophisticated elite… After all, a lobster looks very much like a large aquatic bug.

However, trying to convince Western consumers to switch to insects and other bugs for their protein will be a tough call, especially when served in their original form. An possible alternative would be to process them into sausages and ground patties. There also could be the possibility to texture the protein in similar ways as it happens with soy.

Another interesting potential for insect is to use them as a raw material for animal feed. Bugs and worms can also be a good source of protein for poultry and pigs. After all, in nature, this was a regular part of their diet. Similarly, for many fish species, insects are a natural source of food. Currently, fish feed is made of increasingly expensive raw materials, such as fish meal, fish oil and vegetable oils, for which they compete with human consumption, or are used for feed destined to other farm animals.

There are talks about organizing the first congress on insect as a food source as early as 2012.

Copyright 2010 – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Future Harvests – The book is coming soon!

 

The editing of my book “Future Harvests – The next agricultural revolution” is about completed. All that is left to do is developing the cover and start the publishing.

I have already received orders, even before the book is out. That is quite a good sign. And a great surprise for me.

If you wish to be updated automatically when the book is published, just subscribe in the sidebar window on the right.

To describe the topics addressed, I have posted three short promotional videos on YouTube. In previous articles (The fun of writing this book and The next agricultural revolution), I had already given an idea about the content of the book.

Video #1: The Fundamentals (duration 2:37) – Introduction to the background and fundamental principles mentioned in the book “Future Harvests – The next agricultural revolution” to achieve food security for 9 billion people in 2050. Topics such as demographics, the shift in economic power, the control of food  and food security strategies are reviewed. Sustainability, innovation, efficient market driven food production and strong leadership are required.

or click here if video does not appear

Video #2: The Actions (duration 2:12) – A short review of some of the actions mentioned in the book to achieve the objectives. Solving the water challenge, finding new land for production, urban farming, hydroponics, farming the desert, rebuilding fisheries and developing aquaculture further are all possibilities.

or click here if video does not appear

Video #3: The Questions (duration 3:08) – A sample of some of the questions raised in the book. They cover technology, land deals in Africa, improving yields, restoring soil fertility, change in consumer needs, organic farming, risks of conflicts, biofuels or meat are some of the topics presented.

or click here if video does not appear

If you know someone who could be interested by the topics on this page, please pass it on!

Reducing waste works – The example of Hormel Foods

Hormel Foods issued a press release yesterday about their packaging waste reduction program, and the amount of packaging material that they saved is simply impressive. Reduction covers cartons, paper sleeves, thinner glass jars, plastic trays or shrink-wrap.

Not only this program has a direct effect on the packaging of Hormel products, but it indirectly also saves a lot of resources, such as a significant reduction of paper fiber, less trailers on the road using fuel and less petroleum for plastics of all sorts.

The only detail that do not mention in their press release is the money savings. You can be sure that they would not go through all this effort if it was not bringing significant savings.

Economy meets environment and vice-versa. This only proves that common sense and a clearly defined strategy deliver positive results.

Yes you can! You just need to want to!

Click here for the complete press release from Hormel Foods

Getting closer to lab meat

Dutch researchers have extracted cells from a live pig and put them in a broth derived from the blood of animal fetuses. After the cell have multiplied, the researchers have obtained a mass of muscle tissue.

The texture is obviously not what they are looking for, but they are optimistic about the possibilities.  They have not tasted it, but I think they should have, just to show that they believe in the quality of the meat. Nonetheless, they expect that such meat could be on the market within 5 years.

This project is backed by the Dutch government and by Stegeman, a Dutch subsidiary of Sara Lee that produces sausages and deli products.

After all, if such meat goes into processing, grinding and soaking, the physical properties of the meat do not have to match “true” meat, and it could be a good alternative to meat from a slaughtered pig. A cost analysis will be necessary to see if this indeed has a future. Moreover, it is quite interesting to see this project backed by the government of a country that produces and exports a lot of agricultural products.

Click here to read the article from Meat International

Coca-Cola and the bottle of the future

Coca-Cola will start selling its beverages in a special bottle, called the PlantBottle, which is made from PET plastic and from plant-based materials by the end of 2010. A first launch will take place in Western Canada during the Olympic Games held in Vancouver, BC.

In the US and Canada, the bottles will include 30% of plant material, and the bottles are 100% recyclable. The biological material will come from sugar cane by-products, originating from the production of ethanol, mostly from Brazil. Including this material in the PET plastic reduces the carbon footprint of the bottles, and reduces the dependence on oil-based materials. The benefits are both environmental and economic.

The ultimate goal of the company is to produce bottles that will be made of 100% non-food plant-based materials such as wood chips and wheat stalks.

For further details, read the Coca-Cola press release at http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/presscenter/presskit_plantbottle.html.

“Let’s end the polarized debate on food” Holden urges

Glad to read this statement!

Hopefully what Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association is advocating in this article will come true.

It is high time for the partisan debate to end, for both sides to recognize that they do not know it all, and they both can learn a lot from each other; and for all of us to make the right changes. Yes industry, there will be changes, and some profound ones that will reshape your landscape. And yes environmentalists there will be changes and you will not have all that you want because eating is not an ideal, it is a necessity.

Goes along what I wrote in “Food production and environmentalists: time to co-operate

Uruguay, the quiet leader in beef?

Here is an interesting article about how Uruguay works towards a healthier future.

Not only does the country invests a lot in renewable energy but it works in improving its beef, too.

Uruguay’s  100%-traceable, hormone-free, grass-fed beef farming is offering many answers to the concerns of today’s consumers, and the system rewards the farmers doing the right thing, too! Read the article at http://www.benzinga.com/36898/hamburgers-in-montevideo

Not the largest producer, but certainly among the smartest.

Environmental performance on labels: it is coming. Really.

Sweden has started presenting the carbon footprint of food on the labels for food products sold in supermarkets and on some restaurant menus. The Swedish National Food Administration is managing this program.

I was announcing this trend to inform consumers about the environmental impact of the food they consume, and as an aid to make their eating choices, in my earlier articles “Environmental performance on foods labels” and “The dining of the future“.

Here is the link to the article from fis.com with more details on how some food items, such as fish, beef, chicken or pork, perform.

More action needed on food waste

Food waste is one of those topics that rarely make the headlines while the numbers that come out surveys are simply stunning.

40% of food production does not reach the plate

40% of food production does not reach the plate

Five years ago, the University of Arizona had published a report about the situation in the USA. Their estimate of food waste was almost that 50% of the food produced in the US never gets eaten. Although some losses are inevitable in the supply chain, their report estimated that 14% of the food bought but American households are thrown away, and even 15% of that amount is sent to garbage without even being opened. Not only, this is lost food that could have even eaten, but also the environmental impact of food waste is far from negligible. According to the University of Arizona research, cutting half of the food waste would reduce the environmental impact by 25%, because of reduced landfill use, soil depletion and application of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Recent USDA studies indicate a level of 25% of food that never reaches a plate.

In the UK, research by the government’s waste reduction agency, WRAP, found that one third of all food bought in Britain is thrown away – of which half is edible! I read an amazing statement from Liz Goodwin, WRAP’s chief executive in a 2007 article from The Guardian: ‘If we stopped the amount [of food waste] that we could stop, it would be the same as taking one fifth of cars off the road.’  About a third of the food waste in the UK comes from households, food manufacturers account for about 20%, food service and restaurants for about 15%, and retailers just under 10%.

In Australia, it is estimated that food waste makes up half of that country’s landfill!

At the global level, estimates of food going wasted are that over half of the food produced globally is lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain, finds a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme released in early 2009.

According to UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner There is evidence within the report that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet.” This statement is a nice illustration of what I was presenting in my article The transition from a consumption society towards a maintenance society.

Let’s check if this is correct:
Today’s food production being 100 with waste of 40%, means that we actually consume 60. FAO claims that food production needs to increase by 70% to meet the needs of the population in 2050. This means available food must be 60 x 1.70 = 102, compared with 100 gross production currently. With no waste, Achim Steiner statement sounds consistent and correct!

If this is not food for thought, I do not know what is. Nonetheless, this is definitely a part of what we need to address for the future of food supply.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Let’s not confuse efficiency and intensification!

Although it may sound like a bit of semantics, the difference between these two terms is quite important when it comes to agriculture and food production.

Let's not confuse efficiency and intensification!Since WWII, much progress has been made to increase food production, such as genetic improvement, production techniques and mechanization, use of fertilizers, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the development of animal nutrition, and of course government incentives. This has resulted in our ability to produce more efficiently and face a previous doubling of the world population. It has helped reduce costs and made food more affordable to more, although unfortunately not to all.

The main driver behind this evolution has been to shift from a mostly labor intensive food production to a mostly capital intensive one, and this why it had to become intensive. The labor force moved to urban centers where they could find jobs in manufacturing and later in services. Thanks to mechanization, less people were needed to work on farms. This has led to a sharp drop of the population active in agriculture from above 50% of all actives to less than 5% in Western countries within 30 years. Moreover, as the standard of living increased, labor costs increased and made a labor-intensive approach too expensive to fit in the type of society that we created, and the only, apparent, solution has been to further intensify and mechanize.

The strong development of manufacturing that went along with the rise of the consumption society increased the standard of living and the disposable income. In the same time, in constant currency, food became relatively cheaper and much more affordable. This led to a change of diet from mostly starch-based to protein-based, and we have seen recently a similar trend in emerging countries.

Clearly, all of this has improved the quality of life, maybe a little too much too fast though. Intensification has brought its share of problems as well, as it always does with progress. For instance, I can mention soil erosion and loss of organic matter, soil fertility and ground water quality affected by manure (especially minerals) surpluses, reduced genetic diversity and possibly lessened resistance to diseases, to name a few. Of course, for each of the problems, we come with a solution mostly based on technology, which usually fits in and reinforces intensification.
Unfortunately, Nature does not work that simply. All it needs is time to process and eliminate problems through its cycles in the soil and in the water. Nature can handle quite a lot, but it can handle only that much. This is where the difference between intensification and efficiency becomes obvious.

Intensification tends to continuously load and overload the system, which is why we hear so much talk about sustainable agriculture nowadays. Food production cannot be sustainable if it does not allow its natural environment to process and eliminate the contaminants. Similarly, Nature cannot replenish on its own what we take out, unless we create the conditions for this.

Efficiency, on the other hand, integrates performance and sustainability. It allows having a high production, not so much by using massive amounts of water, fertilizer, energy or other production inputs, but by using them when needed where need and just as much as needed. This way, we can grow plants or animals with the minimum amount of waste and respect the ecosystem. Efficiency also comes from optimization, and to this extent, efficiency and intensification go hand in hand, up to that particular point when any incremental input does not produce more in the same proportion. More importantly, once we produce beyond the optimum, we take the chance of creating a stress. This is very clear in animal production, when densities exceed a certain point, the animals’ organism defence becomes weak and makes them vulnerable to diseases.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.