With sustainability as one of the key buzzwords circling agriculture today, many eyes are focused on farming insects as the main sources of protein for animal feed and even human consumption.
While many consumers might find the idea of chewing on a cricket revolting, there is a growing number accepting insects as cheaper forms of food.
The global population today hovers around 8 billion people and is estimated to be 9 billion by 2050, therefore farmers and governments are under severe pressure to ensure that growth’s food security.
In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that the world needs to increase its food production by 70% by 2050.
The main issues farmers face to produce extra food for another billion people are; a lack of land on which to grow food, climate constraints, use of chemicals regulations, and consumer pressure, to name a few.
With this in mind, numerous companies producing insects and the equipment to help are evolving and finding lucrative niche markets.
Insects Approved For Human Consumption
Experts claim that due to their high protein and nutritional content, insects represent less than 1% of the carbon footprint of livestock, boosting their sustainable attributes.
Edible insects can offer between 35% and 60% of their dry weight as protein, which is more than some plant sources, including soybeans, and more than traditional meat and eggs.
Insects are already part of the staple diet of around 2.5 billion people worldwide, but in Europe, it’s only been more recently that some insects have been approved to eat.
For example, the European Commission has approved more varieties of insect protein for human consumption including house crickets and lesser mealworm larvae.
The mealworms can be sold in dried, frozen, paste, and powder form, but the crickets can only be offered as a partially defatted powder ingredient.
For the European Commission:
“It is up to consumers to decide whether they want to eat insects or not. The use of insects as an alternate source of protein is not new and insects are regularly eaten in many parts of the world.”
Feeding Animals With Insects
Higher usage of insects will be in the animal feed industry as alternative sources of protein. The levels of this protein from insects can vary between 55% and 75% when used in animal feed.
Current trends show farmers are under pressure to reduce the emissions created when using animal feed with protein that has been shipped thousands of miles, such as soybeans from Brazil as an example.
However, there are some hurdles that are preventing farmers from using animal feed made with the inclusion of insects such as cost and usage legislation.
French-based Ynsect was founded by scientists and environmental activists in 2011 and is on a path to present the benefits of mealworms to the human and animal world.
It says there are huge benefits of using insects in the poultry industry where efficient use of protein is key for bird growth.
Accounting for over 40% of total meat produced globally, there are around 25 billion chickens produced in the world each year, of which nine billion are broilers.
Ynsect says using mealworms in the diets of poultry help improve their food conversion rate, can offer good bacteria when made into a probiotic, and can lead to improved digestibility and breast tissue.
According to Alice Pabst, Head of Marketing at Ynsect:
“For livestock farming, Ynsect provides solutions to the issues of nutrition, health and well-being, digestion, microbiome, reduction and cessation of medication, environmental impact, decarbonization, and therefore overall performance in growth or reproduction stages.”
The company cultivates its mealworms in state-of-the-art vertical farms powered by advanced robotics, computer vision, and cutting-edge AI.
Insect Farming in Containers
Dutch company Amusca, along with Mavitec, has developed the first scalable, mobile Insect Breeding Unit, the idea of insect expert Dr. Ir Walter Jansen of Amusca.
His mission is to produce living insect larvae from waste organic material for the production of protein for the poultry and aqua-feed industries. The company says this new unit can unveil the potential for insects in animal feed, human nutrition, added-value products, and biochemicals.
The Insect Breeding Unit can produce up to 5,000 kg of living larvae per day and is located in two 40 ft containers stacked on top of each other, in which the flies are kept.
This is the home where the flies grow from eggs to larvae. In these containers, Amusca and Mavitec manage to control the perfect climate for flies.
Smart software and high-tech engineering create ideal living conditions for flies as well as their eggs and larvae. The breeding process is managed and monitored by a cloud-based software system, which is connected to the modules via the internet. The system generates information on the performance that is 24/7 monitored by Amusca staff.
UK company Better Origin is also manufacturing mini insect farms housed in shipping containers. Basically, food waste goes in one end and the larvae come out the other.
Filled with AI, the system is completely automatic and uses cameras and algorithms to control the entire process.
Better Origin leases the units to farmers on a monthly fee basis and retains all control of the production process. Farmers can access the information via an app.
Welsh farmer Osian Williams, owner of Wern Farm, uses insect feed for his poultry layers. According to him,
“Avian flu measures increase our concern for the welfare of hens as they can become stressed when forced to remain indoors for long periods of time. However, supplementing their feed with the live larvae not only provided them with better nutrition but also appeared to have welfare benefits. I could see they were less stressed, and their feather coverage looked better than ever.”