Researchers are doing some of the groundwork necessary to understand the legal frameworks involved in exporting insects as a source of protein that has implications for food security and the environment.
Eating insects as a food source may appear to be a relatively new concept in some parts of the world, but it has been going on for thousands of years, whether for survival in hunter-gatherer societies or as a delicacy as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. These days, Thailand is the world’s largest producer of edible insects, supplying the local market and expanding into other countries in Asia and as far away as North America and Mexico. But food regulations vary widely, making it challenging for Thai insect farmers to have the knowledge that is necessary to further their export potential, especially to countries like the UK and in the European Union.
“Edible insects are considered a novel food in the EU that requires specific and expensive authorization for their farming and processing,” explains Sirithon Siriamornpun, Professor of food science and technology at Mahasarakham University in Thailand. “Since specific EU regulations for edible insects are still under development, the picture can be very confusing about just what is needed for Thai exporters to expand into this market.”
Siriamornpun and colleagues at Khon Kaen University in Thailand partnered with Dr David Bek and team from the Centre for Business in Society (CBiS) at Coventry University in the UK to develop a roadmap that fills knowledge gaps among farmers, scientists, policymakers and key industry stakeholders so that Thailand’s edible insect sector can fully realize its economic potential. The project “Export-readiness in the Thai insect industry: Devising a roadmap” was supported by a grant from Newton Fund Institutional Links and included partners from Ban Saen Tor Community Enterprise and the Provincial Agricultural Extension Office in Maha Sarakham in central northeastern Thailand.
The project team reviewed the requirements for entering major overseas markets, especially the EU and UK. They also conducted online and in-field surveys and interviews to assess the key barriers and challenges to edible insect exports. This was followed by workshops that transferred the knowledge gained on good agricultural practices and farm management to 150 key stakeholders in the industry. A main aim of these workshops was to help farmers improve their product quality and farming systems.
Around two billion people around the world consume some 2,000 insect species, with about nine species farmed for animal and human food production. Insects are sold whole or processed as powders and extracts, and added into drinks, snacks, flours and pasta. Scientists are increasingly purporting their potential for addressing food security. Farming them could also provide an alternative to the high greenhouse gas emissions produced by the cattle industry. As this sector expands in Thailand and the market grows around the world, standards for insect food safety and hygiene will need to be further developed. Research will play an important role in this process.
“Our research has provided insight into novel food regulation and standards in the UK and EU for academic researchers, farmers, local communities and policymakers in Thailand,” says Siriamornpun. The project has also strengthened research collaborations between the UK and Thailand.
Next, the research teams plan to continue their collaboration by assessing the quality of cricket powder production in Thailand, after successfully securing new funding from the National Research Council of Thailand. The collaboration ultimately aims to develop the knowledge necessary to improve production standards and increase exports.
This work was supported by the Newton Fund Institutional Links grant, ID 623492174, under the Newton Fund. The grant is funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Thailand Office of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, and delivered by the British Council. For further information, please visit www.newtonfund.ac.uk