Close encounters of the insects

Listening to the various radio stations on the way to work the past several days, I picked up commentary by the morning hosts on insects and Christmas trees. It was a big yuck factor to them as they relayed an article from Good Housekeeping on the variety and numbers of insects on these trees.

Penn State has a rundown on the wide variety of insects that may be found on these trees at http://ento.psu.edu/extension/christmas-trees/information/bugs-and-the-real-christmas-tree as well as remediation recommendations. (DO NOT use pesticides.)

I do think the general public, at times, gets a bit nervous when insects intersect with their daily lives. At times, this fear or concern may be warranted (i.e., hornet nest next to the porch), but we interact with these critters on a daily basis and no harm occurs.

How many of us realize the amount and variety of insects we unknowingly consume each year? It is estimated that we chow down on one to two pounds of insects every year. The Food and Drug Administration does realize that most people don’t want to partake in this practice and put some limits on how much enters our food stream.

For example, it is acceptable for frozen broccoli to contain 60 or fewer aphids and/or thrips and/or mites per 100 grams before action may need to be taken. The action level for canned mushrooms occurs when an average of 20 or more maggots of any size are detected per 100 grams of product.

In theory, insect-free food could be achievable, but a greater amount of pesticides would be needed to accomplish that task. There is a line that regulators/growers/consumers try to observe that provides as much of a pest-free food as possible with the least amount of pesticides.

But there is a move afoot to increase our dietary intake of insects. A few years back, the United Nations put out a report entitled “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security” as a way to provide nutrients for a growing world population. While we may find eating insects distasteful, certain cultures obtain protein and nutrients through a steady diet of insects.

Closer to home, a Penn State student recently explored the use of crickets (ground up as a substitute for flour) as an ingredient for baking.

Next time you throw snow peas, broccoli and eggplant into your stir fry, remember that you are getting some protein from the hiding insects.


Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.


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