Insect Farming Is Best Suited for the Production of Animal Feed

The companies of the growing industry of high-scale insect farming are approaching their businesses from many different angles, but where the use of insects can be justified the best is when the insects are used to create animal based feed for other animals. The “animal based feed” means feed that include proteins and other nutrients that are coming from an animal instead of plants. Certain farmed animals like salmon and pets like some reptiles require animal based feeds for their health and efficient farming.

When evaluating where the insect based products should be used, the animal based feed is the only group of products where the insects stand out in a positive way against the substitute products. Other products that can be made out of insect are human food, chitin and fertilizer. Chitin and fertilizer are side products of the main purpose of the insect farming that is aiming to produce food either for human or animal consumption.

Let’s go through some of the approaches the insect farming industry has made so far, and how they match up with the substitute products.

Human food

When talking about human food, insects are associated to it as a protein source and replacement for other animal products and beans like soy. There is no doubt that insect farming have significant benefits over these two product groups, but when looking at other new protein products, insects are not anymore the number one choice. Single-cell proteins (Algae, fungus and bacteria), cultured meat and bio engineering (e.g plant based products mimicking animal based products) can all offer the same value proposition as insects, but they do not carry similar risk exposure for the producers making them. For this reason the substitute products are more likely to be produced with more efficiency.

The main difference and in the same time the source of higher risks compared to these other modern food sources is that the insects are the only animal based, or putting it more precisely, the only one coming from live animals.  When farming animals in high-scale the pathogens are a risk for the health of the animals themselves. This risk is underlined in the coming years as the pathogens’ are building bit by bit more resistance against antibiotics. Secondly, when dealing with live animals the end products are also exposed to pathogens like salmonella more than plant based products.

The factor that insect industry has over the substitutes is the possibility of nutrient recycling. Nutrient recycling in this case means that nutrients can be saved from bio waste or even manure by feeding them to insects. Using bio waste brings multiple benefits for an insect farm, but it also highlights the risks. When the raw material of the production is bio waste the cost is very low. This lower cost can make up some of costs of higher risks when comparing the substitutes and underline positive environmental impact of the insect farming.

There are a few negative sides of using bio waste. Depending on the source of the waste the quality and quantity of it changes and this makes the forecasting of the production more difficult also in both quality and quantity. Additionally, when the waste is so unstable it bring additional pathogen risks. There are ways to mitigate these issues: If using waste from bio waste created by facilities such as breweries the quality and quantity are consistent, but the price is not as good as the same waste can be used for example in bio gas production. Other way to make the raw material consistent is for example fermentation and mixing of different high standard deviation batches to make them consistent by quality, but these solutions increase the production and inventory carrying costs. Lastly, the issue of regulations might be a problem from companies using bio waste. At the moment it is unknown how for example heavy metals and medication residues build-up in the food chain of insects. This is one of the main reasons why EU has not yet opened the markets for insect based food and feed. It has been speculated that the first steps of the opening of the markets will include only certain insect species fed only with certain feeds, and those fees would not include bio waste.

All these downsides may compromise one of the main arguments of insect farming, the possibility of nutrient recycling. If you are interested to read more about this aspect, see my blog post “Using bio waste as feed” here: https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/08/20/using-bio-waste-as-feed-for-farmed-insects/

Animal feed

When looking at the substitutes in the animal feed sector “insect feed” is competing with wild fish, side streams of traditional farming and plant based proteins like soy. The prices of these products are low and the quantity demand is extremely high. It will be difficult from the insect businesses to answer these numbers especially when the industry is still building up, but insect feed have other significant benefits over the competition.  Both wild fish and insects are part of the natural diet of predatory fishes like salmon, but unlike the wild fish, insects can be produced locally and insect products are a lot more sustainable. Soy is one of the key elements in the modern fish farming even though it is not a part of for example salmon’s diet. This area is not my expertise, but it is my understanding that soy is being used as fish feed only because it is the cheapest possible protein source, and if the price of an animal based protein source would be close soy, soy would be ditched right away. Additionally, the rise of the wild fish based fish feed prices is expected to continue. This will be closing the price cap year after year in benefit of the insect feed.

Conclusion

Keeping in mind the explained issues and when thinking about the industrial scale food production it can be concluded that insect are most suitable for animal feed for situations when the animal based nutrients are a must. When thinking of human food the new and modern substitute products offer more efficient and, depending on the type of the feed used for insects, more environmentally friendly solutions. When looking at the topic from non-industrial point of view insects are a great solution for human food. For developing countries and areas where arable land is scarce insects can offer great benefits over mammal farming that need huge areas of land and water. Topic that was not discussed in the blog was taste; will it work in benefit of insect or other protein sources? This question I leave for other bloggers and experts.

What the Latest Avian Flu Epidemic Teaches to Insect Farmers?

In the first half of 2015 the egg production industry in USA has been hit hard with avian flu epidemic causing the staggering loss of 11 percent of the hen population all across the country. In actual number of egg-laying hens reduced just between April and June by 33 million individuals. Read these articles for more details:

(http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/7/the-end-of-chicken.html?utm_content=buffer14455&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer)

http://thefern.org/blog_posts/11-percent-of-egg-laying-hens-dead-in-two-months-from-bird-flu/

kirva
So what can the insect farming industry conclude from this example of significant pathogen issues this established and large industry is struggling with? When such a large industry with long history of scientific research and large funding (compared to insect farming) behind it cannot control its pathogen risks, it is clear that insect farming is exposed to even higher probability of risk pathogen risk realization.

Starting from the first posts I have been writing about the seriousness of the pathogen breakout risk. It is also my main conclusion of my thesis that this risk is the most serious one for all insect farming companies. Here are a few selected sections from my thesis about the topic. If you read the thesis already, you can jump ahead until the cricket drawing! If you are reading this for the first time and you are interested to learn more, find the link to my complete thesis in the end of this post .

pirkko
“The lack of knowledge increases all risks in every department and function of an IFF- farm, not only in the supply chain. As mentioned in chapter two by the time of writing this study there are no functional large-scale facilities operating yet, only plans exists. Even though the companies will do their best to predict upcoming challenges, it is likely that there will be surprises that the companies are not able to predict. There is not much scientific research on the industry so a lot of the data and knowledge companies have is gathered through their own research and development projects and based on the experiences of the individuals. As the data is private and essential for the company`s success the knowledge is carefully protected and out of reach of the public. As mentioned already in the opening chapter other than IFF- insect farming has related history, however the knowledge from the field of for example farming of entomophagous insects cannot be directly used to help the risk control in IFF- farming .This is be-cause the insect species feed on different nutrition and the scale is significantly bigger.”

aurinko
“Pathogens and parasites are the biggest concern for all entomology farms; they can wipe out entire facilities endangering the production output for a very long time. What makes the risk even more serious and the mitigation more difficult is that there is a very limited amount of knowledge available on the subject on commercial level farming. The insect pathogens include viruses, bacteria, fungi, protists and nematodes (Eilenberg et al.). An example of a problematic pathogen is densovirus that can cause serious dam-age to cricket farms that can wipe out entire colonies (Szelei et al., 2011). For control-ling the risk of contaminations by pathogens and parasites high hygienic conditions are required, similar to other food production (Klunder et al., 2012).”
“Pathogens and parasites cannot be controlled completely as they are in some cases originated from the insects themselves (Eilenberg, 2015). At times the pathogens will outbreak and cause problems for the production. An example of a minor case could be a loss of a few percentages of insects, or maybe only a slowed down growth rate. In the worst case scenario the whole colony dies. Losing a colony can be a catastrophe for an insect farm because risk residence resilience level is low due to the lack of egg supply in the market (chapter 4.3). “

“Pathogen and parasite outbreak can be considered as a hazard risk because of the lack of knowledge and low control level caused by it. The lack of knowledge leads to a situation where the companies do not have complete understanding of the dangers. What are the pathogens and parasites, where they can come into the process and what are the circumstances that favor the unwanted visitors? When the risks or their cause are not known, they cannot be mitigated. Other hazard risks are for example natural disasters as discussed in chapter 3.2.2. These risks cannot be controlled completely, but a company can be prepared for them.”

So what can the insect farms do that they could be better prepared and handle their risk than the struggling traditional farming? What is positive for insect farming is that unlike the traditional animal farming, the insect- industry is not tied to old fashioned infrastructure that does not support the modern risk management thinking and the growing insect industry can be build according to the latest knowledge.

ilkka-heinäsirkka
For long time the traditional farming has ignored the unethical and hazardous (and money making) living environments of the animals as they have been able to counter the downsides by heavy use of medication on the animals. As it has now been seen again with the latest case of the avian flu, it just might be so that this is not the right way to go. Fortunately, the insect farming industry does not even have this option simply because such thing as insect medication does not exists. For this reason the best option for insect farmers is to first of all provide the insect the best possible environment to lower the risk exposure of pathogen breakout. Secondly, use Risk Pooling meaning that the insect colonies are divided in the multiple separate locations so that in case the risk does occur, it does not affect the whole colony right away.

Further reading:
About risk management click here: https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/05/20/thesis-supply-chain-risk-management-in-entomology-farms/
About ethical insect farming click here: https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/01/04/the-animal-welfare-in-insect-farming/

The Strange Case of Pestaurant  

Rentokil, A global company of pest control, is arranging for the second time a set of events called the ”pestaurant”. The Pestaurant is a pop-up street kitchen offering insect food around the world. According to their website on the 3rd of June there will pestaurants open in 13 different countries.  The events raises multiple questions that I will be now discussing here in this blog.

Why Rentokil is arranging Pestaurant events?

Why Rentokil, a pest control company ,is involved in food industry? Their business is about killing the pests with e.g poison, but now they are associating their name with food. This is according my knowledge against the very basic brand building and marketing rules to do such a thing. Will people to come to them asking for insect based food later? Will people think that insect have been collected from some industry building where they were first killed with poison?

In the Australian pestaurant-event page an explanation is given:

“The aim of Rentokil’s Pestaurant is to raise your awareness of common pest problems and demonstrate our commitment to professional pest control and innovation, helping us to stay one step ahead of the natural evolution of pests.

Our team of experts are available to offer valuable advice and top tips on how to avoid a pest infestation in your home or at work. Contact us today to arrange a FREE survey.

This event motivates you to be more adventurous with your food and aims to promote the health benefits of an insect rich diet already enjoyed by billions across the globe. Encouraged and promoted by the UN as a viable food source, eating insects (entomophagy) can enrich your diet with higher levels of protein, zinc and calcium – not to mention their low-in-fat status.”

With such an event Rentokil does indeed increase their brand knowledge among the people, but how does offering insect food increase their credibility as effective pest control company?

Why is the event called Pestaurant?

A quick look to Wikipedia gives you a description of the word “Pest” as following: “A pest is a plant or animal detrimental to humans or human concerns (as agriculture or livestock production)”. Calling the event Pestaurant confuses the consumer even more. How come Rentokil is offering us pests, things that are detrimental to us?

Are the insects they are offering even pests?

The different events offer different foods. The lists include mealworms, crickets, locusts, ants, buffalo worms, water beetles and scorpions. From the list few are clear pests, but water beetles at least do not fit the description.

The biggest question: Ignoring the legislation.

From the 13 countries involved Estonia, Lithuania, Ireland, UK and Germany are EU member states. From these countries only UK has taken an official stand against the EU regulations banning insect bases products from human consumption. It is known that the food and health authorities have allowed some insect food events in the countries, but certainly Rentokil is in the gray area here.

What surprised me the most is a piece of text in the German event page “The insects were not self-bagged, but especially farmed for the human consumption according to European food standard.”

The claim that the insect were farmed according to “European food standard” is very misleading as there is no such thing. The food standard they are referring to is possibly the guidelines given by Belgium food safety authorities, but certainly there no such thing as “European food standard” for insect products. From the countries outside of EU I do not know the legislation.

Link to Pestaurant’s homepage. From this link you find further links to the events of different countries:

http://www.pestaurant.com/

Thesis: Supply Chain Risk Management in Entomology Farms

My thesis “Supply Chain Risk Management in Entomology Farms Case: High scale production of human food and animal feed” was published in May 2015. The link for the downloadable PDF- file is in the end of the text. The thesis is world’s first scientific study connecting business management and high-scale insect farming for human food and animal feed.  
pirkkoClick here for the downloadable file: Ilkka Taponen Thesis

My presentation about the thesis can be found here

Audiobook version of the thesis is available for purchase in all major stores e.g here

Which insect species to farm for human food?

Welcome to my third blog post! So far I have got almost 300 different visitors to my site, thank you all for reading and spreading the word. To celebrate this milestone I have got myself a logo and name for the blog. Special thanks for logo for my friend Lasse Ursin, who also provides the cool graphics of this blog post.

Since starting the blog I have completed my internship at Ynsect in France and returned to my native Finland. I have some interesting insect-related projects coming up, but nothing official yet. My thesis work is also moving forward, I think I’m about in the half way now. The title keeps on changing, at the moment it is Risk Management in the Supply Chains of Human food and Animal feed Entomology Farms. One interesting topic I came across with when doing research on insect farming is the reasoning why certain insect are more suitable for farming than others. Here is what I found out.

Which insect species to farm for human food?

There are over six million insect species in the world and over 1000 are used as a food source for humans. There is so much to choose from, so how to find the best options? There are many ways to approach the question, but for this blog I have chosen to take the businessman view and see which species can be farmed effectively and in large scale.

First of all the chosen insect must be phytophagous, meaning that they feed on plant-based food. Entomophagous insects, meaning that they are feeding on other insects, are very hard to farm and make a profit in the same time. This is because even though there have been many attempts, entomophagous insects have not been successfully farmed on factitious prey meaning that to farm them, also the prey insect must be farmed. This leads to a situation where two insects are farmed, but only one can be sold.

lehtikirvapirkko

The second step in the cutting out the options is answering a set of questions. Some of these questions are given in the book Mass Rearing of Beneficial Organisms.

Body size: The insect should have reasonably large body size because the insects that are sold for human food or animal feed are sold in weight (sometimes entomophagous insects that are reared for pest control are sold in numbers). The larger the size the easier they are to control during the rearing process.

Easy to culture: This is something quite obvious, but what makes a species easy to culture? The main reasons making culturing easy are: Available studies on the insect, availability of the insect itself, simple living environment, simple eating habits and low level of manual work on the upkeep of the farms living conditions.

High rate of reproduction: This is one of most important questions and related to the body size point. There is no use of having a species that are large in size if they are very slow breeders. High rate of reproduction gives also security against unexpected rise in mortality rates as the population can regain the required level fast. Also answering to rising market demand is easier.

Not significantly cannibalistic and high tolerance for diseases: Even though the insects must be given an environment that resembles their natural environment, they most likely will be living in more dense populations than in nature. Some insects will react to high density populations by starting to eat each other. This will cause losses to the farmer and fights against the animal welfare (see blog no 1). The dense populations increases also the risk of diseases and for this reason high tolerance is necessary.

Feed conversion ratio and feed: The feed conversion ratio tells how much of feed is needed to gain certain amount of biomass. The lower the ratio is the less feed needs to bought and stored. Unlike the farmed mammals, insects are poikilothermic that means that they are able to use most of their energy for growing, not for heating the body. This gives insects better FCR than cows and pork for example. There are variations between the insects as well, but the FCR of a certain insect depends on what the feed actually is. If the food has high nutrient values, a small amount is enough.

This brings us the last point of possibility to feed on organic waste streams. If the species can be fed on organic waste the cost of production will be reduced, but it brings up multiple questions. Is the waste high and consistent in nutrient values and is it risk free? If the consistency is not guaranteed, the already difficult production planning becomes more complicated because the consumption of feed cannot be forecasted. Already today a lot of waste streams are used in beneficial way, for example for the production of biofuel. How nutritious the waste that is available for free or very cheap actually is when major part of the “good” waste is already used somewhere else? There are few companies doing production on waste streams, would be interesting to hear what they have to say about this!

Few insects that fit the given criteria are house fly, coldling moth, silkworm, mealworm, black soldier fly and house cricket.

Insects and sustainability are not crap.

In my first blog, “Animal welfare in insect farms”, I discussed why insect farming is more sustainable than livestock farming. On 17th of January 2015 an article “Are those edible bugs actually sustainable?” was released on MacLean’s website. In the article, Ben Reade is questioning the sustainability of insect farming, but he is doing it by making statements with no real arguments and cutting corners. The first quote from him in the article is: “Everyone has been making a lot of hype about insects and sustainability and most of that hype is crap.”  Admittedly, the tone of this article is most likely deliberately provocative, maybe to make people like me write about the same subject!  Later on, a chef called Nathan Isberg is also interviewed, but first let’s start by breaking down some of the misconceptions from the article given by Mr Reade:

..“No one spoke about the fact that, in order to ship those insects around the world, they were mostly being bred in Holland and had to be kept at 28° C—and that’s energy-intensive,” says Reade. “And then they were to be freeze-dried, which is just about the most energy-intensive form of preservation on the planet.”

  1. Obviously, when the demand for insect products grows, the insect will be industrially farmed all around the world, not only in Holland where the industry at the moment is booming the most. When looking at the production and logistics of insects, it is relevant to compare it to the substitute. For example, what is the difference in the sustainability of logistics of freeze-dried crickets going from Holland to Brazil compared to Brazilian beef and soya beans coming to Europe? The logistics have very little impact on the total environmental footprint of food; over 90 % comes from the manufacturing.
  1. There are three popular insects farmed at industrial level at the moment. From the three, only the house cricket is associated with high energy consumption related to the heating of its environment. The other two, namely the black soldier fly and mealworm, are farmed in large crowds and as such are heating their environment themselves.
  1. Freeze-drying is associated only with the house cricket, and only if the insects are shipped to customers without processing as a whole. There are already products like protein bars, as mentioned in the article, that are made out of insect flour. The flour is shipped dry and at room temperature. The freeze-drying will not be the most common form of insect product handling. Again, compared to livestock products, the majority of meat products must be moved and stored in cool temperature.

Nathan Isberg, a chef, is also interviewed in the article. He says, among other things:

“Insects are less and less a realistic response to our current agriculture. Reducing protein consumption would be a better answer”

This is a true statement, but the problem here is that the demand of protein is expected to grow, not reduce. The growth is driven by the growing middle class of big countries like China and India. From my perspective there is very little that can be done to change people’s desire for proteins, so the answer is not to hope for and promote less protein consumption, but to provide a new protein source; the insects.

“These crickets you get from farms—they taste like fish because they’re being fed fish food. So you get a cricket, you feed it fish, and you feed the cricket to the fish and you get a fish. That’s the reality.”

Well no, that is not the reality. First of all, crickets are not fed to fish. If a fish farm is using some insects for feed it is the larvae of black soldier fly, not the cricket.  Feeding fish based products to crickets is expensive and cannot be done on a large scale and expected to be profitable. There are multiple better ways of feeding crickets than with fish meal.

Ps. If Mr Isberg’s last comment is really true and there is an insect farm feeding crickets fish meal and a fish farm feeding crickets to fish, please, farmers – do yourselves a favour and contact me! I can give somefree tips to save you a lot of time and money. Or maybe just read a book, like Mass Production of Beneficial Organisms.

Links to the article  “Are those edible bugs actually sustainable?”:

http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/factory-farmed-insect-how-vulgar/