So far, I have discussed several aspects of feasibility and practicality of using insects as a significant source of human food. I have cited several documents that treat this topic, some with optimism, others with reserve, and I have expressed an overall reserve about the prospects. I had expressed my opinion that the cultural objections would not be insurmountable, but instead, I suggested that the practicality of such a vision’s becoming a reality was in the production system. I pointed out that gathering existing insects would not meet the growing need for human food as our population increases from more than 7 billion today (2016) to more than 9 billion by 2050. I further discussed the gaps in our background that would allow us to farm insects in a production system that is derived from current insect farming such as cricket, mealworm, and silkworm production.
This leads to my major area of expertise: insect rearing (or MASS-REARING). I have devoted the past 40 years of my life to better understand and contribute to rearing science and technology, so I feel that my views come from a background of serious study of this topic. This includes my writing more than 100 papers on the topic of rearing, and my having read and reviewed more than 1000 papers on rearing (as an author, editor, and reviewer).
In this experience, I have studied the most successful and unsuccessful efforts to develop mass-rearing technology. And with this background, I can say that there have been many pitfalls that had to be overcome for mass-rearing systems to become practical realities. Probably the first true mass-rearing system was developed for screwworms (this somewhat neglects the rearing of silkworms on mulberry leaves, which I discuss elsewhere on this website), and it was not until the full-scale system could be developed over more than two decades of research that the sterile screwworm technique could be applied to a field-scale test. With tephritid fruitflies, several systems are in operation, but these systems took decades to develop. Other mass-rearing systems include the pink bollworm sterile release program, the boll weevil program (an area-wide system in the southern US), and several biological control systems. In every case, it took at least a decade or more of cost and labor-intensive research to get the systems to a point that could be called true “mass-rearing.” And as I treat in my book on Insect Diets: Science and Technology (2nd Edition), the actual biomass produced in any of these systems falls far short of what could make a significant impact on impending world hunger crises.
In all the cases of successful development of true mass-rearing systems, the most important deciding factor (as to whether or not the system would succeed in achieving mass-rearing) was automation. Along with the automation advancements, there had to be developments of diets/feeding systems, diet presentation systems, containerization, environmental optimization, management of microbial factors (contaminants and symbionts = bad microbes and good ones), management of potential for genetic deterioration, and waste management (thousands of pounds of scales produced as potentially hazardous waste from pink bollworm production and tons of carcasses, spent food, deteriorated containers, etc.).
These are all parts of mass-rearing systems that required often exquisitely elaborate and deeply thought out research on how to deal with these issues. Just the most basic example faced in mass-rearing facilities is how to deal with toxins like formaldehyde or sodium hypochlorite (bleach) in surface-sterilizing eggs. Just this simple sanitation question requires detailed and well designed experiments or tests that guide rearing system managers as to how to deal with these and myriads of other problems in establishing and running complex rearing systems.
It is these issues to which this website is devoted. And I will discuss some of these issues further in the next few blog pages. Please stay tuned.