Interview with Ana C. Day, founder of 4Ento
Is the international edible insects sector in the right way to a full success?
Like other sectors did, the international edible insect sector will have to face and work around all the usual development challenges, plus our own distinctive challenges which are unique to edible insects. Hopefully we will learn from other industries mistakes, trials and failures and do a better job on not becoming part of the problem.
Our sector can’t really win and move forward faster as individuals, nor as isolated labs, but from the joint efforts in the different food and feed related field applications.
In an ideal world …
Specialists from different fields, like molecular biology, biochemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, physiology and so on need to work together to bring this sustainable alternative from the dream bench to the market.
This is not necessarily easy, but we need to bridge the gaps. Multidisciplinary collaboration has to become “mandatory”. We need to be able to look at problems from different angles and apply different techniques to solve the challenges.
If we all understand the overall objectives and our shared responsibility, we can overcome most trip-ups, regardless of the differing organization charts and goals that tend to get set up between (industry and academia) teams. We need to create incentives and craft models for fruitful collaborations.
How long does it takes to convert “potential” into “concrete”, referring to the european market?
Directing and encouraging participation and involvement to go from potential to concrete, has proven to be quite challenging in our area. You need to deal with both the insect and human green and red factors. (I am not sure the real issues the World faces and why Insects can make a major, positive contribution have been clearly defined. It is almost impossible to advance proactively until this happens.)
Some basic Principles are being worked on to obtain concrete actions, while insuring the safety of the consumers and worker (both human/animal).
Some players may be a bit more advanced than others but, in general, we are in the middle of creating the conditions and waiting for most R&D results and regulations to be concreted. Our roadmap will became a highway the moment we overcome challenges external to our control like the lengthy regulatory procedures, but we are trying to promote and bring proactive and cooperative efforts to the table.
We are not just another tennis shoes. We face the fact that we need to assist our consumer and customer to overcome a serious involuntary fear factor and the burden of trying to change people’s eating habits in the west.
Is the EU set of rules developing too slowly?
If we take in account all the international campaigns, and all the movements and propaganda to eradicate hunger, to save water, to end food waste and the issues of climate change! the response is YES very slowly. Some goodwill from the legislators and public officers would help to bring ways to assist us to go that extra mile that we need to prove our sector right.
I truly believe that regulatory frames have to be put in place, and that all the machinery to assess compliance and set the high standard for the development of our sector needs to exist and put to work… Having said that, most instances and regulatory organisms have implied the lack of current consumer demand to justify their lack of action and involvement/investment from their side. We are having to work with both hands tied behind our backs…and yet we are still here.
What’s your opinion about Paul Vantomme’s “retirement” circumstances?
I believe my opinion and my position on this subject were clearly expressed on my blog post. Unless I was misinformed, I only see legitimate circumstances for Paul’s well-deserved retirement. Our focus should be on the “WHY he hasn’t been replaced” circumstances.
What the industry can do to have an effective lobbing-action in the political contest?
The key is obviously very increased awareness both in the public sector and with the general public of the major issues facing the Planet and the very positive role Entomophagy can play.
However, in my opinion, there is very little the insect-based industry can do under current conditions. We are in no position to generate revenue so we are in no position to fund consistently and successfully something so entangled and expensive like hard-core lobbing, and major information campaigns. Awakening interest in the major transnational companies in our sector can be a tremendous help in moving forward, despite the existing mixed feeling that this can also be a double-edged sword. Initiatives like ProteINSECT and IPPIF among others have been a good example of getting things to move forward as a result of group effort. So for now, gathering all our sets of individual qualities and working as a group, should contribute significantly to move us forward more effectively.
Having a shared-spokeperson could help to better the relationships with the EU Instituions, although we may need also to act at a higher level, as FAO for example?
Many (me included) believe that having a spokesperson to channel better all efforts is needed, but very few are willing to make sure this person gets paid for all those hours of work and commitment. Even though most of our industry core values are aligned, it is not always possible to have the same approach or strategy as companies. This always brings some discomfort to the table, marring some efforts, as I have seen it happen more than once.
I am not sure the problem is that we need to better the relationship, but that we need to build the/A relation, a solid relation for starters, and then of course keep the relation open and respectful (not always the case, it is well known how on occasions we have been subjected to unfair judgment by some public employees justifying their asymmetric verdicts on their very personal beliefs and not so much by their job description).
EU is just a portion of FAO’s member countries. FAO is not above any of the countries’ governments but, to the contrary, it follows its members´ propositions/demands/needs… At the country level we just took things for granted and are paying the price.
Do you think showing insects “as they are” could be a negative approach to communicate an industry that someone say is in need for normalization?
Normal for whom?
We are part of a planetary solution, and there is market for both “ as they are” and Insect-based. I know exactly what you mean, I work with 3/4 of the industry players, and I know sometimes there is this minor controversy! I always play my SWISS neutral card, because I believe everybody has the right to market their product as they see fit. However, we are still searching for an umbrella image for the sector.
If you take the specific example of Switzerland, here, the authorities consider insect-based products to be the most possibly “misleading” ones. This is why they were not included in first attempt to grant us permission to market and sell them.
Funny, some of the “as they are” insect products might think that insect-based are pussies! If you look further it gets even more disappointing; ento-feed has the fearless support from the ento-food community but very rarely is it the other way around! which is a pity.
We are all in the same boat, our amazing alternative has a cultural and visual handicap that we need to overcome with patience, solidarity and lots of good marketing!
Is investing money, time and energy in the edible insects business something you would suggest to a young entrepreneur?
This is a tricky question! And, I am not sure I have the answer. I am almost 50, I have done half of my journey already, and investing my money, my time and my energy was and still is, a very personal choice. Maybe at this stage of my life I don’t necessarily get my high only from business.
A mentor once told me that in order to achieve success in business you have to use at least 2 of the 3 things you mentioned in your question; Either/Or somebody’s time, somebody’s energy and somebody’s money, so my answer would have to be NO. I wouldn’t recommend to invest full-time the 3 at the same time on insects at this moment.