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Patrick Murphy

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Buggin' Out: Urban Bug Farming for the Future

In many cultures eating insects is more than a delicacy – it’s a food staple. However, the use of bugs as a mainstream ingredient is a foreign idea in the developed world. As the human population continues to grow, we have to think about how to feed people. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has shown interest in using insects as an alternative food source. Due to their high concentration of the eight essential amino acids, vitamin B12, riboflavin, vitamin A, amazingly efficient converters that leave a much smaller environmental impact on the planet than cattle.

Once technologies are developed to produce insect-based food ingredients they can be incorporated into numerous food products. They would make great protein substitutes as any food additives to cereal, snack bars, or traditional meals. The high nutritional value, probiotic potential, and affordable price are just a few reasons why many Asian and Latin restaurants already offer insects on their menu.

Rethinking the urban farm and how to deal with the upcoming need to increase food supplies, Claire Lemarchand is planning a series of cricket farms to be placed throughout cities, that go beyond just growing bugs. Crickets are bred in cylindrical units surrounding a light source, to optimize yield, and are fed fresh food waste from the market and surrounding restaurants. While at night, the cricket farming units double as an urban lighting system.

Is urban bug farming a valid food source strategy? What other ideas could be implemented into our food supply networks? Or, could push the boundaries of urban farming and sustainable food sources to better prepare for future food demands?

Why Insects Should Be in Your Diet By Aaron T. Dossey

The Cricket Bigger Than Beef By Claire Lemarchand


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    Jun 5 2013: I think this is a great idea. First, I just wanna back up what everyone else has been saying here. There are definitely tons of bugs in the food we eat. I used to work at a basil farm that made pesto for high-end restaurants in Portland. Although, we did our best to get birds, snakes, and TONs of bugs out during the basil washing process, a handful of bugs probably escaped detection in every batch.

    However, there is on major risk with this idea. In order to meet our nutritional requirements, we would have to eat a lot of bugs. This might bring into the question the danger of potential biomagnification (also known as bioamplification).

    Biomagnification is a reasonably well understood phenomena where toxins and other persistent chemicals are able to grow to extreme concentrations as you go to higher trophic levels in the food chain. Essentially, at each level in the food web the level of toxins can increase. This has a been a huge problem in the past. One notable example is the accumulation of DDT (a previously common pesticide) in birds. DDT earned its discoverer a Nobel prize but it wasn't until later that DDT's detrimental environmental effects were uncovered. DDT, creates a metabolite DDE, in vivo, which may cause eggshell thinning in bald eagles and peregrine falcons. This is thought to have caused significant damage to many birds of prey populations (1 & 2).

    We need to be very careful if we want to successfully use bugs a staple source of sustenance. To avoid the biomagnification effect, it is essential to tone down pesticide/insecticide use in areas where the bugs will be collected. Otherwise we may incur horrendous risks later on down the road.

    1. Toxicological Profile: for DDT, DDE, and DDE. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, September 2002.
    2. Stokstad E (June 2007). "Species conservation. Can the bald eagle still soar after it is delisted?". Science 316 (5832): 1689–90. doi:10.1126/science.316.5832.1689
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      Jun 5 2013: Biomagnification would be important to consider if we did start to eat insects on a large scale. This could be similar to the problem of biomagnification of mercury in fish which eat many smaller fish or krill and eventually bioaccumulate high levels of the toxin. While we would have to find ways of avoiding this phenomena the root of these issues is pollution. If we can find ways to reduce pollution and pesticide use, many forms of food will be safer for us to eat.
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      Jun 5 2013: Ben,
      I'm not sure how applicable biomagnification is to farmed bugs. Is there any information about biomagnification being an issue in raising cattle or other livestock? If there is, then I would agree.
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        Jun 5 2013: If there are pesticides involved (being used) then it would definitely be a big deal for farming bugs. It has to do with who eats the bugs.

        It is likely not a problem with cattle because they eat primary producers (grass) so there is only one trophic level jump. However, if cattle start eating bugs then this could become a problem!

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