Maggot sausages may soon be a reality

When it comes to food – especially meat, where do you draw the line? Researchers from University of Queensland seem to find nothing inedible! They are researching on use of maggots and locusts to make a range of food items that could address the food shortages around the world.

University of Queensland Meat Science Professor Dr Louwrens Hoffman explains that the current status of livestock around the world would soon fail to meet the demands for meat across the world leading to shortages and deficient protein diets. It is imperative that alternate sources of proteins are researched for human consumption. He said, “An overpopulated world is going to struggle to find enough protein unless people are willing to open their minds, and stomachs, to a much broader notion of food.” He added, “Would you eat a commercial sausage made from maggots? What about other insect larvae and even whole insects like locusts?” “The biggest potential for sustainable protein production lies with insects and new plant sources,” he said.

Professor of Meat Science at the University of Queensland, Dr Louwrens Hoffman...
Professor of Meat Science at the University of Queensland, Dr Louwrens Hoffman..."An overpopulated world is going to struggle to find enough protein unless people are willing to open their minds (and stomachs) to a much broader notion of food"

According to their research they note that Western consumers would generally refrain from having insect based foods unless they were processed and unrecognizable. He explained, “In other words, insect protein needs to be incorporated into existing food products as an ingredient. For example, one of my students has created a very tasty insect ice-cream.”

Kangaroo meat too has been hailed as an alternative source for meat globally, he said. Hoffman and his team’s research called the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) used larvae (maggots) from the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) as an alternate source of meat or poultry. Hoffman explained, “Poultry is a massive industry worldwide and the industry is under pressure to find alternative proteins that are more sustainable, ethical and green than the grain crops currently being used.” At present broiler chickens fed on larvae diet of up to 15 percent do not affect the final end product he explained. He said, “It’s all pretty logical if you think about it. Chickens in the wild don’t eat feed preparations. They eat insects and larvae.”

Insects for part of diet in many parts of the world say the researchers, especially in the east. Professor Hoffman said insect larvae or maggots would be easy to produce from the “upcycled waste” like sewage. He said, “There needs to be a better understanding of the difference between animal feed and human food, and a global reappraisal of what can constitute healthy, nutritional and safe food for all.”

In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations had published a report in which the experts had urged people to eat more insects rather than conventional meats. The report had said that producing insect meat was cheaper and more sustainable. This had encouraged some of the US based companies to come up with insect based food products such as chips and protein bars made up of insects.

Food study looking at patterns of food consumption

In a recent related study K. Papier and colleagues from Cancer Epidemiology Unit, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford worked on a research looking at the patterns of diet in a large cohort of participants. Their study titled, “Comparison of Major Protein-Source Foods and Other Food Groups in Meat-Eaters and Non-Meat-Eaters in the EPIC-Oxford Cohort,” was published last month (11th of April) in the journal Nutrients.

The team was exploring the health effects of different diets – inclusive of meat and barring meat. Their study using the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford cohort of 30,239 participants looked at food groups. They divided the study groups into six based on their food consumption. Participants were either, “regular meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans” consuming, “a third, quarter and a fifth of their total energy intake from high protein-source foods” respectively. They noted that those who were low and non-meat-eaters were more frequently consuming meat alternatives such as “soy, legumes, pulses, nuts, seeds” as well as other plant-based foods such as “whole grains, vegetables, fruits.”

Plant based meat and clean meat consumption and Neophobias

As food alternatives go there are plant based meats and clean meat. Clean meat refers to cultured meat that is grown from meat cells in the labs. Plant based meats are popular with vegans wherein plant products are made to appear like meat.

Another recent study was conducted by Christopher Byrant from Department of Psychology, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom and colleagues including Keri Szejda, Nishant Parekh and Varun Desphande from The Good Food Institute, Washington, DC and Brian Tse from the Center for Long Term Priorities, Hong Kong. The team looked at consumer perceptions regarding clean meat and plant based meats as alternatives to regular meat in USA, China and India. Their study titled, “A Survey of Consumer Perceptions of Plant-Based and Clean Meat in the USA, India, and China,” was published in Frontiers In Sustainable Food Systems in February 2019.

They write that conventional meat production and consumption has taken a setback in the recent years. There have been concerns regarding “taste, price, safety, and naturalness,” of these products and increasingly populations are shifting towards alternatives.

For this study the team recruited 3,030 participants to understand their perception regarding clean meat and plant based meat. The participants were from China, India, and the USA. The team also looked at levels of neophobia among the participants. Neophobia refers to fear of trying anything new.

The results showed that in India and China compared to the USA there was a higher acceptance of clean and plant-based meat. In India, predictability food related neophobia was higher than in China and USA. Women in China for example were more likely than men to buy clean meat as well as plant based meat. Meat eaters there were also more likely to buy more clean meat. The team found attitude predictors among the buyers related to perception of “healthiness, appeal, excitement, nutrition, necessity, and goodness”. Similar findings were seen in India.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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