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350. Insects as a Future Food Resource

뉴스관리자 기자2013.10.01 13:52:48

Insects as a Future Food Resource

 

   By Kwon, Oh-seok, Professor at School of Applied Biosciences

ecoento@knu.ac.kr

 

 What do you think of when you hear the word, “insects?” Most people would respond with words such as pest, worm or creepy things. It is no wonder that the response of many people to the word “insects” is mostly negative. Since the Agricultural Revolution about 10,000 years ago, man has had to fight against insects to keep his foo safe. The main source of organic energy on Earth is green plants. The photosynthesis carried out by the green plants transforms solar energy into organic energy in the form of glucose. Most living creatures on earth feed on plants to survive. Until man succeeded in cultivating crops, it was not an easy job for man to find and feed on enough food. However, the Agricultural Revolution enabled man to feed sufficiently to increase the population rapidly on earth.

 

 Since then, man started to stereotype the image of insects as “evil creatures” which must be terminated. Some insects such as butterflies or honeybees escaped this, but most insects were fallen into demise by this wrong preconception of man. Until recently, man had no mercy on exterminating insects, without thinking why he was doing this. Slowly but surely, the natural balance of the earth’s ecosystem started to tremble. The final kick on this was the Industrial Revolution in 19th century. Since the Industrial Revolution, exploitation by man of the natural resources on earth accelerated exponentially.

 

One of the foreseers on this issue was T.R. Malthus, who predicted a shortage of food because of the exponential growth of human population, in “An Essay on the Principle of Population”, in 1789. His idea influenced many intellectuals at that time, and people started to think of nature conservation. Rachel Carson, who wrote “Silent Spring” in 1962, sparked the controversial issue of the use of chemical compounds. Until she pointed out the deadly toxicity of chemical pesticides that affected every aspect of the natural ecosystem, man thought of chemical compounds as a magic wand, enabling him to do anything he wanted. Her book provoked the huge dispute over the use of chemical compounds in the U.S.A., and resulted in the legislation of the “National Environment Policy Law” in U.S.A.

 

Since the 1970s, a change in view about nature conservation has enabled us to see insects in a more amicable way. A method of biological control of pest insects started to be developed by farmers on organic farms in the West. Rather than exterminating, man started to learn how to harmonize the balance of nature, by carefully controlling the insect population. Many people also started to see the importance of insects as a functional unit in the earth’s ecosystem. The rapid development of Biotechnology (BT) also played a role of changing the preconception of man regarding insects. Insects are no longer regarded as “evil creatures.” With the advancement of Genomics, the enormous biodiversity of insects has become an important asset of biological resources that man has inherited from Nature.

 

The recent movement on the utilization of insects as a “future food resource” of man is interesting. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) held an international seminar on the possibility of insects as food in 2008 in Thailand. The EU has just finished a 4-year project on the use of insects as human food, reported by the FAO, and the UN. Most scientists forecast that man would have no choice but to choose insects as a stable protein source by 2050, when the human population could be more than 9 billion. Many countries, including Korea, have already started to study this possibility. Man has maltreated insects for the last 10,000 years, yet insects may be the only hope to preserve the human population in the future.

 

Isn’t it ironic that men may have to rely on insects for their survival in the future, as was recently shown in the Korean Movie, “Snow Piercer (Seol-Guk-Yeol-Cha, in Korean)?”

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