Edible insects

Climate change, increased global population, scarcity of agricultural land and rapidly changing consumer preferences collectively present serious challenges to our future food security.

According to Associate Professor Kerry Wilkinson from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, these food security issues will only be overcome by a shift in food consumption habits, particularly with respect to meat consumption. The solution could lie with edible insects – and Dr Wilkinson is leading a new research project focusing on consumer perceptions and attitudes towards a range of edible insects.

The project is being undertaken collaboratively between the University of Adelaide (Dr Kerry Wilkinson and Dr Beverly Muhlhausler, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, and Professor Rachel Ankeny and Dr Heather Bray, School of Humanities) and SARDI (Dr Anna Crump).

Insects form part of traditional diets in many developing countries throughout Africa, South America and Asia, with approximately 1900 different insect species consumed worldwide. In Australia insect consumption is far from standard practice and tends to occur only as a novelty. This is a challenge for Australian producers attempting to promote edible insects within the domestic market.

“To date, there have been few attempts to evaluate consumer perceptions of and attitudes towards the consumption of edible insects,” says Associate Professor Wilkinson. “To support this emerging agricultural industry, we are looking at ways of overcoming barriers to insect consumption in Australia and enhancing consumer acceptance of both edible insects and products containing insect-based ingredients.

Consumption of edible insects affords both economic and environmental advantages over more traditional livestock-based meat sources:

  • For every kilogram of grass-fed animal protein produced, livestock must be fed approximately 6 kg of plant protein; in contrast, the feed conversion of insects is considerably more efficient.
  • Nutritionally, insects are good sources of protein containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates.
  • Insects can be fed organic waste (e.g. food scraps), so increased production of edible insects could reduce food waste (currently estimated to be 1.3 billion tonnes per annum) that contributes to landfill

In Australia, edible insects are an emerging agricultural industry, but there is clear potential for insects to become a viable, alternative protein source for both human consumption and livestock feed.

Watch Associate Professor Kerry Wilkinson explain.

Related links:
Dr Kerry Wilkinson – staff profile
Dr Beverly Muhlhausler
Professor Rachel Ankeny
Dr Heather Bray
Faculty of Sciences – research
School of Agriculture, Food and Wine
Media release