How Insects Can Be A Sustainable Alternative Feed for Livestock

Imagine a high protein food source that only takes several weeks to reach maturity that requires a fraction of the land and water needed by crops and livestock; and can repeat that cycle over and over again on cheap, abundant food source. In fact, there is something that fits all the above; black soldier flies, an insect.

Insects have been enjoyed as a protein source in many parts of the world. Being quick to grow and reproduce, insects can be a great sustainable alternative to meats. However, most Western nations are not really for such a change. But, until such time, what if we can use insects as a sustainable alternative to protein feeds for our livestock?

Many companies are doing just that. There are crickets, mealworms, silkworm (leftover from the silk industry), termites, black soldier flies, and even cockroach powder designated for animal feed on the market already. Of course, this market presence is only a fraction of the animal feed industry but many companies are hoping to increase their market share in the coming years. A company in South Africa recently raised $11 million to build two commercial scale insect farms raising black soldier flies for feed.

Besides having a quick life cycle, most insects are not picky eaters; leftovers from food processing, animal offal, brewery grains, and even manure can be used to feed them. All of which are low-cost since they are considered waste by the principal industry. However, many insect farms designated for animal or human consumption do not use manure to avoid safety issues.

In addition, insects contain nutrients and minerals – like omega-3, vitamin A, iron, and calcium – since the whole insect is eaten. Their exoskeleton contains a polysaccharide called chitin that have shown to have a positive effect on the immune system. Intake of chitin may reduce the need to use antibiotics that are having negative effects, like drug resistant bacteria. As a side note, about 80% of antibiotics produced are used on livestock.

And of course, insects are natural diets of chicken and fishes; and a less extent, cattles and pigs are well. We consume quite a bit of insects everyday without knowing it; think chocolate, pasta, and canned fruits. Watching chickens at a free range and you’ll notice them hunting for bugs. In fact, some fish farms in Asia use hanging lights off the surface of the water to trick flying insects into the water. This natural use of wild insects may reduce our need for pesticides as well.

Lastly, many fish farms that use black soldier flies as feed have reported no change in aroma and taste. But then again, wild fishes, like trout, consume large amounts of insects and most people have no problems with them. Some shrimp farms reported that the flesh is a bit paler but the taste remains the same. In the Philippines, chickens fed on grasshoppers are more valued by locals as they claim have a superior taste.

Insects are everywhere and outnumber all other animals. Many of them have extremely quick life cycles that can be measured in weeks. Many species are not picky on what they eat and require very little land compared to crops, especially livestock themselves. in addition, insects are not depleting at an alarming rate like ocean fishes are due to overfishing. With all of these factors, perhaps we should look into insects to help solve our growing problems, or at least relieve some pressure off of soybeans and fishes.