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359: Insect food for animal and human consumption

Problem:

Each year, around 70 million people are added to the world’s population. If growth continues at this rate, by 2050 the population is expected to reach a whopping 9 billion. To feed all of those hungry mouths, agriculture and pisculture will need to produce almost twice as much food as they currently do.

Solution:

Entomophagy (the consumption of insects) is a common practice that has been taking place for tens of thousands of years. Around 2 billion people regularly eat insects as part of their diet, and over 1,900 species are edible


The most commonly eaten bugs are beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps and ants. The eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults of certain insects have been eaten by humans from prehistoric times to the present day. Around 3,000 ethnic groups practice entomophagy. Human insect-eating is common to cultures in most parts of the world, including Central and South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. 80 % of the world’s nations eat insects of 1,000 to 2,000 species

Consuming insects as opposed to livestock is more environmentally friendly. Insects are cold-blooded and thus require less energy to maintain their internal body temperature. This means they are very efficient at converting feed into edible body mass, such as cattle.

Crickets require around 4 lb (2 kg) of feed to produce 2.2 lb (1 kg) of meat, and around 80% is edible. Cattle, on the other hand, require 8 kg to produce the same amount of meat, but only 40% of the cow can be consumed. This means that less land needs to be dedicated to growing feed for insects than for livestock, reducing irrigation and pesticide use.

Furthermore, the insects could even be used as livestock feed, for example replacing fishmeal. This would have the added advantage of increasing fish supplies available for humans to eat. Insects emit less GHGs and can be cultivated on organic waste.

In the Netherlands in 2009, Kees Aarts and Tarique Arsiwalla founded Protix in Dongen, North Brabant, which was then the world’s biggest automated insect farm. Protix began by using Hermetia Illucens insects, otherwise known as the black soldier fly although since 2017, the firm has added mealworm, cricket and locust ingredients through the acquisition of Fair Insects. In 2019 Protix opened a 150,000 ft² (14,000 m), US$ 500 million euro production plant and announced that it was looking to open more farms within two years.

In France, Antoine Hubert of Ynsect produces powdered insect protein in bulk from a small beetle, called mealworm for fish farming, pet food, and even the fertilizer industry. Originally a musician, inspired by the way he had seen New Zealand farms use worms for composting food waste, Hubert became an environmental activist, developing a science education game and visiting schools to evangelise about the importance of insects in the food chain.

Ynsect uses robotics, artificial intelligence and techniques borrowed from vertical farming he can bring costs enough to make this a mainstream protein source. Robots feed the stacked trays of mealworm larvae and rotate them around the factory as they go through their two-to-three month growth cycle, until they are finally dipped into boiling water to kill and sterilise them.

Ynsect raised US$125m in series-C funding in February to finance the building of a new 430,000 ft² (40,000 m²) vertical farm in Amiens in Northern France, an order of magnitude bigger than the 32,000 ft² (3000 m²) facility it already has in the Burgundy wine region.

The facility, dubbed FARMYING, enabled Ynsect to multiply its current production capacity by 50-times. The facility became be the new hub for 3 raw materials and nutritional suppliers, 1 larvae supplier, 2 research facilities, 4 tech suppliers (including Ynsect), a quality-control specialist, a sustainability consultant, an innovation consultant, 4 end-users and 3 international bio-economy consortiums.

The company plans to build 15 factories around the world over the next decade, in North America and South East Asia as well as Europe, producing at 1m tonnes of insect protein a year. That would still be a tiny fraction of the 1 billion tonnes produced each year for animal feed.

The Aspire Food Group based in Austin, Texas, led by Mohammed Ashour pioneered the first large-scale industrialized intensive farming entomophagy company in North America with a 25,000 ft² (2,300 m²) building where automated machinery breeds crickets. Each bin can hold about 10,000 to 15,000 crickets at a time. Since crickets take only about a month to become big enough to harvest, Aspire produces roughly 22 million every month Aspire are part of the North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture.

Pets are estimated to be consuming up to 20% of all meat globally. Pet owners are being urged by vets to feed their dogs and cats on a diet rich in insects. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) says some insect-based foods may be better for pets than prime steak. Farmed insect protein is typically raised on human food waste.

In terms of human consumption, by 2011, a few restaurants in the Western world regularly served insects. For example, two places in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, offered cricket-based items. Vij’s Restaurant had parathas that are made from roasted crickets that are ground into a powder or meal. Its sister restaurant, Rangoli Restaurant, offered pizza that was made by sprinkling whole roasted crickets on naan dough.

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