Insect farms to solve soaring global protein demand
The small but growing insect farming sector has captured attention and investments from some heavyweights
What do insect farms look like? Layers of squirming black soldier fly larvae fill large aluminum bins stacked 10-high in a warehouse. They are feeding on stale bread, rotting mangoes, overripe cantaloupe and squishy zucchini, Reuters reports from Vancouver.
Enterra Feed, one of an emerging crop of insect growers, will process the bugs into protein-rich food for fish, poultry - even pets. After being fattened up, the fly larvae will be roasted, dried and bagged or pressed to extract oils, then milled into a brown powder that smells like roasted peanuts.
Global population growth and an expanding middle class have raised per capita meat consumption by 50 percent over the past four decades, fueling fears of a protein pinch.
Traditional sources of the key macronutrient are growing increasingly unreliable
amid a changing global climate and worries about the environmental impacts of row-crop farms and commercial fishing.
People tend to pivot from grain- and plant-based diets to meat-based meals as they grow wealthier. The problem is that as meat demand grows, feed production needs to grow faster. It typically takes about two pounds of feed to produce a pound of chicken. For pork, it takes four pounds.
Expanded cultivation of soybeans - the foundation of livestock and poultry rations for decades - is not a long term solution because it contributes to deforestation and overuse of harsh farm chemicals.
Fishmeal is made from wild-caught anchoveta, herring and other oily fish that represents about 25 percent of a typical aquaculture feed ration, which typically also includes grains or soybean meal.
But fish farms cannot rely solely on crop-based feeds
to nourish their naturally carnivorous stock.
The small but growing insect farming sector has captured attention and investments from some heavyweights in the $400 billion-a-year animal feed business, including U.S. agricultural powerhouse Cargill Inc [CARG.UL], feed supplier and farm products and services company Wilbur-Ellis Co and Swiss-based Buhler Group, which makes crop processing machinery.