If you find the idea of eating bugs a little hard to swallow, you’re not alone. The “yuck” factor still keeps most Americans from embracing bugs as food. But over the last couple of decades, there’s been a surge in research and development on how to use insects to impact the world without having to put them on our plates.
Today, insect-based protein production for animal feed is being billed as the next hot agricultural commodity. In order to supply the growing global population with protein, the industry needs sustainable and more efficient alternatives since most soybeans, one-third of all grains, and a large portion of caught wild seafood go to make animal feed.
Insects are a already a natural component of the diets of fish, chicken, pigs, and even dogs, so there’s no need to convince them! Plus, black soldier fly larvae, in particular, have many economic and environmental advantages over fishmeal and soy. So why not use insect protein as feed for animals?
The future of feed
When we began to domesticate animals, we shifted away from their natural diets toward more convenient feed options. Grains and other easily accessible foods were incorporated in the diets of livestock animals simply because it was easier to use what we were already producing for ourselves. Over time, balanced nutrition became a top priority in the industry, which meant added protein was necessary to create ideal feed formulations to help livestock grow bigger and better.
Fish, which were rich in protein and seemingly endless in abundance, quickly became the go-to source. But, do you want to guess how many domestic animals naturally eat fish? Basically, none. (Although the prospect of watching a chicken fish for food in a river is an entertaining thought!)
While insects are the more natural option for chickens, dogs, pigs, and most farmed fish species, there is more to it than that. Insects are extremely nutritious and can be produced with very low carbon footprint. On these two qualities, black soldier fly larvae can actually go toe-to-toe with traditional sources of protein for feed.
Feed trial studies over the past several years have concluded that black soldier fly larvae are a great source of feed for larger livestock like fish or poultry, and even pets. While BSF larvae are about 10% lower in protein proportion (56% compared to 65% for fish), they contain the essential amino acids all living animals need in greater proportion than fish.
It is not just the BSF’s nutritional profile that makes it a healthy alternative for feed. The larvae have unique antimicrobial properties that dramatically reduce or even eliminate contamination levels of E.coli, Salmonella, and organic pollutants in feedstock, making them a clean source of nutrients.
A sustainable solution
Competing demands from the food and feed markets have led to significant overfishing, and feed manufacturers are keen to find an alternative. Insect-based feed has the potential to offer a more natural, sustainable option.
In case you still aren’t convinced, a number of other studies have tested whether these animals will actually want to eat insect meal.
The verdict? They go nuts for it! Especially chickens and fish! In addition, a number of scientists have shown positive effects in laying hens with increased eggs sizes of up to 30% and some fish increasing their fecundity almost 3-fold when fed insect meal. (See source list following this article for detailed study results.)
So what about that final burning question most of us have: Do livestock fed with insect meal taste the same to us, the human consumer? The research says yes! One study focusing on salmon concluded that there was no negative taste change, in fact, some people even preferred insect-fed salmon over the fish-fed salmon meat.
There are so many reasons why insects just may be the protein of the future and the “missing link” in the food system of a circular and sustainable economy. Look for part three of this blog series as we focus on the environmental advantages of insect-based protein. Coming soon!
EXTRA READING AND REFERENCES
Barroso, F. G., C. de Haro, M.-J. Sánchez-Muros, E. Venegas, A. Martínez-Sánchez, and C. Pérez-Bañón. 2014. The potential of various insect species for use as food for fish. Aquaculture. 422–423: 193–201.
Food and Agriculture Organization. 2016. The state of world fisheries and aquaculture. Rome, Italy.
Finke, M. D. 2013. Complete nutrient content of four species of feeder insects. Zoo Biol. 32: 27–36.
Merino, G., M. Barange, J. L. Blanchard, J. Harle, R. Holmes, I. Allen, E. H. Allison, M. C. Badjeck, N. K. Dulvy, J. Holt, S. Jennings, C. Mullon, and L. D. Rodwell. 2012. Can marine fisheries and aquaculture meet fish demand from a growing human population in a changing climate? Glob. Environ. Chang. 22: 795–806.
Sheppard, D. C., L. Newton, and G. Burtle. 2007. Black soldier fly prepupae a compelling alternative to fish meal and fish oil. Tifton, Gainesville.
Veldkamp, T., and G. Bosch. 2016. Insects: A protein-rich feed ingredient in pig and poultry diets. Anim. Front. 5: 45–50.
Drew, J., and J. Joseph. 2012. The story of the fly and how it could save the world. Cheviot. 16 pp.
Drew, J., and D. Lorimer. 2011. The protein crunch. Print Matters Planet. 184 pp.