Logo Cirion

Cirion Foundation

the impact of infectious diseases

Dr. ir. Ruud Kleinpaste

“People and insects cannot live without one another”

Placeholder Flash-video. U heeft geen Flash geïnstalleerd. Klik hier om Flash te downloaden.

“Many people arrogantly believe that humans are at the top of the food chain, but this is simply not true. We actually constitute food for mosquitoes, parasites and even viruses. It’s no coincidence that many infections are transmitted by insects; for them, we’re just lunch,” laughs Dr. Ruud Kleinpaste. He is able to see the “beauty” of a situation in which insects gorge on human blood and, in so doing, introduce other organisms to a new host. According to Kleinpaste we should not for a minute lose sight of the fact that we live in a biological world: “The rule of ‘eat and be eaten’ counts for us humans too. And because we are all part of this biological system we are all intrinsically linked, just like insects. They, in fact, act as a sort of biological pesticide against the plague called Homo sapiens.

Kleinpaste is passionate about everything that flies and crawls. For many years now he’s been presenting a successful TV program on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel in which he demonstrates this passion by letting huge spiders walk over his face, sticking his head in a container full of cockroaches and putting himself at the mercy of a colony of African killer bees. In New Zealand, where the Dutchman has lived for 30 years, he’s known under the honorary title of “Bugman”. “I’m not a doctor,” He explains, “and nor am I an entomologist. I graduated in agriculture, majoring in forestry. But I’ve always been fascinated by the ecological aspects of my chosen profession.”  

Negative PR
While studying at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Kleinpaste developed a fascination for butterflies, among other things. Shortly after he emigrated to New Zealand he was appointed as an entomologist by the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture. It was a dream job that he landed partly as the result of the enthusiasm with which he spoke about “his” insects. While in the service of the ministry he developed a new form of insect control that’s currently used in the aviation industry all over the world. Despite this, Kleinpaste is not an advocate of large-scale insect control: “On the contrary, I’ve spent my life trying to neutralize insects’ negative PR by showing how beautiful, useful and even how tasty they can be. But as soon as insects become a vector of infections, and thus a threat to the health of large groups of people, then action has to be taken.”

Kleinpaste explains how important it is that governmental bodies all over the world work together to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Fortunately, more and more biologically responsible forms of insect control are now being developed, some, for example, which make use of certain fungal cultures. But it remains difficult because insects are extremely resilient. They are able to quickly adapt themselves to the most adverse of circumstances, just like people do.      

Dr. Kleinpaste doesn’t believe in half measures and he is convinced that when the natural balance is disturbed there’s little point in combating only the vectors of infectious diseases. Insects are merely the messengers, not the message. Infections themselves are created by contaminated drinking water or an ecosystem being out of balance. In a healthy ecosystem with clean rivers and healthy fish, healthy land on which healthy vegetables and fruit can grow and healthy pastures on which healthy cattle can graze, you’ll get healthy people. There will also be far fewer problems with infections transmitted by insects. “Seen in this context we must broaden our objectives with respect to nature conservation. We’ll gain nothing by protecting only the deer and the badgers; we have to aim for a healthy ecosystem with a healthy biodiversity. Mosquitoes quickly become resistant to all types of pesticides, but these pesticides kill the fish and frogs, for example, which feed on them. This kind of human intervention causes a multiple imbalance of the natural equilibrium. If you want to tackle the problem at its root you have to start with the ecological aspects. The role played by insects will then automatically become less significant.”      

Insects à la carte
Did we hear the doctor correctly when he said insects were “tasty”? Kleinpaste: “Too true! We should be eating more insects instead of beef. This is not as absurd as it might sound; have you any idea how much grain is needed to produce a kilo of beef? The production of a kilo of insect meat places a much lower burden on our vegetable resources than the production of that kilo of beef does. Moreover, insect meat has a much higher nutritional value than the types of meat we currently eat. Insect meat is very healthy, it’s devoid of harmful forms of cholesterol, it’s also low in fat and rich in protein and calcium.  And it can be used to make all sorts of food dishes, even hamburgers. Eating insect meat could eradicate the problem of obesity in half of humanity and malnutrition in the other half.”  

Viewers of Kleinpaste’s TV program can vouch for the fact that he practices what he preaches. While he was in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest they’ve seen him barbeque a bird spider the size of his fist over a campfire then enjoy making a meal of it. “But I’m not the only one here who eats insects,” he assures. Everyone who drinks fruit juice occasionally also ingests insects. Do you think orange juice is always pressed from the flawless oranges you can buy at the greengrocer, or would you believe that there could also sometimes be maggots in them? But we should accept the benefits. Insects are everywhere so we should learn to profit from them like they profit from us. It’s eat or be eaten; if more people on our planet are going to survive we’re going to need insects like we’ve never needed them before.”