02/26/2008, 00.00
THAILAND
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Eat insects to beat world hunger, UN scientists say

Larvae, crickets and worms are rich in proteins and minerals that are essential to the human body; experts advise eating bugs during drought and other crises.

Chiang Mai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “I definitely think they can assist,” said German biologist V.B. Meyer-Rochow, who regularly eats insects and wore a T-shirt with a harlequin longhorn beetle to an UN-sponsored workshop this month on promoting bugs as a food source. Almost 40 scientists from 15 countries gathered in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, home to several dozen restaurants serving insects and other bugs.

Some of their proposals are really odd, literally out of this world. A Japanese scientist in fact proposed setting up bug farms on spacecrafts to feed astronauts, noting that it would be more practical than raising cows or pigs. Irreproachable as far as scientific solutions go.

According to estimates by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, some 1,400 species of insects and worms are eaten in almost 90 countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

“In certain places with certain cultures with a certain level of acceptance, insects can very well be seen as part of the solution” to hunger, said Patrick Durst, a senior forestry officer at the FAO in Bangkok.

Insects in many countries could serve as supplement to the food that aid agencies already provide. Transportation infrastructures could be improved elsewhere. But the main problem against acceptance is cultural since in many places the small invertebrates are not very appetising.

Despite the great enthusiasm surrounding the rediscovery of bugs as a food supplement, Tina van den Briel, senior nutritionist at the World Food Programme, the UN agency that provides food in emergencies, expressed doubt that they could benefit large, vulnerable populations. Most bugs are seasonal and have a short shelf life, she said.

Scepticism and doubts aside, quite a few scientists believe that larvae, crickets and worms have great potential and that they are “really good”. Remember: If you trust before you try, you may repent before you die.

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