Entomophagy, A Mealworm Meal

The US is very keen on pets, exotic or otherwise, and as a result every year it imports approximately 110M wild animals (see refs in (1)). But the even more surprising figure is that of the importation of non-live wildlife – that is a staggering 25M kg/annum (see also ref 1 sources). Some of this comes in cooked, smoked or raw.

These imports are monitored and legal, but underlying this is a significant trade in smuggled bushmeat from the African continent. Some of these are primates (non-human of course) such as chimpanzees, mangabeys and baboons, while others are rodents like rats including cane rats.

Of course these are only a minute fraction of the US diet and not to be found on your average supermarket shelves, but the problem is that they can be hosts to viruses. A USFWS study, reported on by Smith et al in PLoS one found things like simian foamy virus and some herpesviruses in some of the samples confiscated from smugglers (1). The viruses were identified by genomic analysis.

To put the problem in perspective simian foamy virus is a relative of SIV and then HIV, so that’s not a good thing to be washing down with a fine wine at dinner. Also, you’ll recall that the SARS outbreak of a few years ago was traced back to munching on palm civets caught in the wild.

Perhaps its time to go with the new trend in the Netherlands of moving over to eating insects (2). I understand that there is at least one restaurant in Amsterdam catering for insectivores instead of carnivores.

I should note that for those enthusiasts of correct English, insectivores are normally reserved for animal insect eaters, for human insect eating the preferred term (little used so far) is entomophagy. Entomophagy is not widely practiced yet as part of the standard Western diet, although about 80% of the nations of the world indulge quite happily (ref Wikipedia).

  1. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0029505#pone.0029505-Smith1
  2. http://www.dutchdailynews.com/eating-insects/

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