Denmark, despite scant history of eating insects, is aiming to be a leader in this burgeoning industry with inVALUABLE, a 3.7 million euro ($4 million) research project.
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Other partners involved in the project include enzyme producer Novozymes, equipment manufacturer Hannemann Engineering, and the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark.
Jan Vaerum Norgaard, associate professor at Aarhus University’s Department of Animal Science that is also part of inVALUABLE, said mealworms could also boost animal health.
“We know that insects have the ability to resist bacterial and fungi diseases…So, feeding the insects to pigs prone to diarrhea may reduce the bacterial population of those pathogens,” he said.
Some researchers warned that despite the potential, there was currently an “overwhelming lack of knowledge” on basic questions of insect farming, such as suitable species, their housing and feed requirements, and managing their waste.
It was also crucial to ensure that escaping insects do not harm on the ecosystem, said experts at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
Researchers with the Danish project said they wanted the private sector to avoid the factory farming model in which large industrial operations focused on profits and efficiency which could be at the expense of animal welfare.
For example, mealworms emit low-level heat so packing too many in a small space could lead to physical stress, said Heckmann.
In DTI’s pilot production room, they are kept in temperatures between 25 degrees Celsius to 32 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit to 90 Fahrenheit) and fed on spent grains and a cereal-based concoction whose exact ingredients are a secret.
But converters acknowledged eating insects may not be immediately appetizing to many.
Rossi, the owner of 21bites, said he thought insects weren’t worthy of a spot on the menu until he saw an FAO report on them.
“The idea that something that, for me, was disgusting, could be turned into something that’s really good, it was funny. And the idea that this market is completely new is very interesting,” he said.
Ultimately though, the success of insects as alternative proteins could come down to taste, said Bom Frost, because altruistic reasons alone would not persuade people to eat them.
“Taste is really the convincing argument in most cases when we’re eating new things,” said Bom Frost.