Insect-based food: sustainable, nutritious – but not religious

Eating flours, burgers and fitness bars made from crickets, mealworms or black soldier fly larvae could help feed a growing global population sustainably, but it might hit resistance from those who follow halal or kosher regulations.

Joe Regenstein, professor emeritus of food science and head of the Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative, will discuss roadblocks presented by halal and kosher regulations to using insect products in food and animal feed in a webinar, “Kosher, Halal and Insects: How do They Relate?” March 25 at 11 a.m.

“As the industry moves forward and thinks about its opportunities, it has to recognize that it’s going to run into some resistance,” Regenstein said. “Everybody’s not gung-ho for insects.”

Still, an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide eat insects regularly as they are high in protein and require far less land, water and feed to rear than traditional livestock.

In his talk, Regenstein aims to introduce halal and kosher dietary laws and then look specifically at how each religion views insects in the food and animal feed context. 

Though Jews make up roughly 2% of Americans, some 40% of packaged goods in a typical supermarket are kosher. While Muslims account for about 1% of the U.S. population and halal regulations have had less relative impact on American markets, demand for halal foods is growing rapidly globally.

Kosher dietary laws mostly deal with three issues: permitted animals, the prohibition of blood and the prohibition of mixing milk and meat. Halal laws prohibit the consumption of some animals, blood and alcohol, Regenstein said.

“Kosher and halal are a set of religious laws and there are procedures that need to be followed in a food plant to make the product appropriate for Jews as kosher and Muslims as halal,” Regenstein said. The practice of a rabbi or imam inspecting how food is processed may account for the most ancient form of third-party food inspection, from a food science perspective, he said.

 To be kosher, the edible portion of all fruits and vegetables needs to be free of visible insects. This can be an issue with regards to aphids on organic broccoli, for example. But the Jewish faith doesn’t bar the use of insects in animal feed.

Muslims divide food into halal and items that are not allowed, called haram. Within haram is a special category, najais, which means filth. Many insects are najais. “They also don’t want to give them to animals as part of feed, which is one of the big driving forces in the industry for use of some of these insects,” though which insects are halal is under debate, Regenstein said. Many species of locusts are allowed within Islam and Judaism.

“The assumption that there are traces of insects in food in general is accepted,” Regenstein said. “But again, Muslims don’t want it visible, they don’t want it intentional. They obviously accept the fact that animals on pasture eat what’s there, but when you’re intentionally feeding insects to animals, some of the leaders are concerned.”

Hosted by the Northeastern Integrated Pest Management Center, located at Cornell in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the real-time Zoom presentation is open to the public and will be recorded. 

Media Contact

Becka Bowyer