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Let's not be mealy mouthed about this PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Monday, 14 November 2011 15:39

 It’s not every day in Belfast that someone offers you a bug-burger.

Groupe Intellex logoIn Northern Ireland we are well used to being considered a minority – very much on the periphery of everything. Some say we cost the UK more, we do less, and we generally under-perform. But now some bright spark has suggested that we can at last join the majority – the 80% of countries that farm insects for food.

These countries have a problem of course – what to do with the crunchy bits. But it turns out that our clever scientists – one area where we excel – have got the answer. Apparently the crunchy bits – known as Chitin – show great promise as feedstock for the latest polymer to make all manner of products. Who could resist the prospect of ants, literally, in your pants?

But why should we in Belfast have any interest in all this?  Surely we live well enough on beef and chickens?  It turns out that in the efficiency of food production, maggots beat meat at every twist and turn.  With every country looking for food security, the ability, in an ever-growing population, to feed us becomes a national imperative.  But, surprise, there’s yet another NI-reason for action – one that may even cause Gulliver’s Giants Park to be renamed Gnats Park.

In amongst the myriad of really useful suggestions of what to do with Giants Park, the idea of setting up a new farming research campus seems centre stage. Somehow, it seems to be entirely appropriate for that methane-generating mountain of decomposing rubbish to have a new life in this world of tasty maggot munching mouthfuls.

Nothing of course is decided – we don’t go in for decisiveness in matters such as these. Anyway we’ve never been that keen on playing cricket – so why not steal a march on Britain and play with Crickets?   It’s not just our place in the UK that is at stake here.

In the über-competitiveness of Europe, where spending on R&D is a leading indicator of economic success, we have been long been trailing behind – so much so that in NI we’ve even set up a dedicated committee to look at the problem!

Apparently we need to urge big business to at least match the enthusiasm of our continental cousins. Over in Holland they may have already taken a lead in understanding the new opportunities of insect ingestion – or ‘entomophagy’ as the experts say. But, it seems, leap-frogging is an entirely accurate way of describing maneuvers in this market. The scope for food processing and packaging expertise, for new types of farming, for new probes into protein and for new export markets is, apparently, just waiting in the wings for the good folks of NI to take a liking to the finger-licking flying things.

You may think this is pure fantasy. You may even have heard people say ‘over my dead bodies’.  We may be happy with honey but surely, you might say, we don’t need to scoff the bees as well.  The news however is that the world needs places like NI to hang up on our hang-ups.

Well, if not fantasy then maybe we should look for some other excuse to live up to our world-wide trailing-nation status?   Previous studies have shown our national addiction to creative bribery so maybe we could complain about the lack of EU subsidies for insect farms?

Or maybe we should embrace innovation.

Maybe we really do have an appetite for new taste sensations? The park is a big place – maybe there is room for a bug campus?

Let’s not be mealy-mouthed about this.



Emeritus Professor Gene R. DeFoliart is at the Russell Laboratories of the Department of Entomology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA.   Article reprinted with permission from Elsevier Science.

Arnold van Huis, Personal Chair, Professor Tropical Entomology, Wageningen University, Netherlands.

Giant’s Park – GI sews some seeds – editorial.

Food for thought – GI editorial.


(This editorial written for publication in NI's Business First magazine)

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