As people become financially capable, their food preferences shift from more plant-based to more of animal-based. With the world’s booming human population, the middle class is flourishing and hence, meat demand is growing with it – by 40 percent in just the last forty years.
The problem is, this increasing meat consumption requires feed production to increase faster. For instance, to produce a pound of chicken needs about two pounds of feed, while a pound of pork needs four pounds of feed.
Fishmeal – the conventional protein source made from wild-caught fish and fish by-products – are becoming rapidly and increasingly unreliable. Its supply has been fluctuating with current climate changes and warming oceans, overfishing and catch restrictions. These factors are also responsible for fish eaten by humans to be increasingly coming from farms, and consequently increase demand and prices for fish feed.
While the expansion of soybean farming could contribute in protein supply as it has been the foundation of livestock and poultry rations for decades, it poses other negative consequences in the long run – such as deforestation and overuse of harsh farm chemicals.
THE SOLUTION: INSECTMEAL
Shortage in protein source is so serious and is really happening as evidenced by the international food production giants pivoting to insects in search of protein source alternatives that are profitable and sustainable as animal feed or additives to human food.
One of the emerging insect farms, Enterra Feed, will process fly larvae into protein-rich feeds for fish, poultry, and pets. They are grown, fattened up, roasted, and dried. Afterwards, the dried bugs are either bagged or pressed to extract oils. Pressed bugs are then milled to produce brown powder that has an aroma of roasted peanuts.
“This pioneering work is currently at the proof-of-concept stage. We are encouraged by initial results and are committed to continuing to support further research,” said Nicola Robinson, McDonald’s Corp sustainable supply chain manager, to Reuters.
The insect growing company Enterra is set to expand its production next year by establishing its second commercial-scale plant in Calgary. In the coming five years, it aims to open similar facilities in other North American cities every year.
In 2015, Cargill, another supporter of insect meal, has conducted an insect-based feed trial on poultry. The company’s lead for strategy and technology Benoit Anquetil said that “Sustainable protein is a key challenge, which is why Cargill is evaluating the viability of insects as part of the solution to nourish the world.”
Other insect growing companies that are geared towards the same market are Beta Hatch, EnviroFlight, and Protix, which opened its first commercial plant in 2017 and set to open another this year. Protix CEO Kees Aarts said, “If we are able to be successful in Europe, then this will be a global solution.”
“Fishmeal has a limited supply, and aquaculture is continuing to grow,” said Andrew Loder, president of Wilbur Ellis’ feed division. With its fish farming customers pressing for more sustainable alternatives to fishmeal, Loder believes that insect meal is a “one piece of a solution.”
Bugs are just one of the various alternatives being studied or developed by major agricultural firms. There are other protein sources such as peas, canola, algae and bacterial proteins. But why insects?
Insects have been supported by nutritionists and scientists for human consumption as a sustainable and cheap source of protein. However, feeding directly on bugs is a stomach-churning for most people. Integrating insects as protein source further down the food chain, instead, may be more agreeable to consumers.
In addition to being a sustainable and cheap alternative, black soldier fly larvae and mealworms are selected by insect farmers because they are docile, easy to grow, and high in protein and digestible fat.
“Mealworms can be grown with little water and studies have shown they can “rescue” nutrients by consuming grains not fit for livestock production without passing on harmful toxins. Black soldier fly larvae also contain high levels of calcium and iron and can feed on a broad array of food waste,” Reuters explained.
Fish farms cannot depend solely on plant-based feeds to cultivate naturally carnivorous fish. As Andrew Vickerson, Enterra Feed’s chief technology officer said, “You can feed an animal all grain, and it will grow, but it may not grow as quickly and efficiently and may be prone to disease.”