Why Insects Could be Ideal for the Future of Animal Feed and Food

By 2050, the world would need 70 per cent more protein than what it requires today; this shall happen primarily due to increasing population in the recent years, growing awareness regarding the benefits of a protein-rich diet, and other socio-demographical changes.  But our current system of agriculture and food production […]

By 2050, the world would need 70 per cent more protein than what it requires today; this shall happen primarily due to increasing population in the recent years, growing awareness regarding the benefits of a protein-rich diet, and other socio-demographical changes. 

But our current system of agriculture and food production adds to immense pressure on the environment, basis our reliance and overdependence on the limited availability of natural resources, arable land and potable water.  


Unsplash/Representational Image

Animal agriculture – which includes poultry, aquaculture, and livestock reared for meat and dairy – is an important contributor towards the overall protein supply across the globe. With the consumption of such products on the rise along with an increase in purchasing power of the average consumer, the United Nations projects that demand for animal-derived protein will double over the course of the next three decades. 

As of today, a significant portion of the soy and corn production across the world is used for preparing animal feeds, whereas annually 20 Million Tonnes of wild marine fish is being used to produce fishmeal, i.e. defatted forage fish concentrate powder that is used for preparing feed for farmed fish and shrimps. These facts and statistics are immensely worrying, as they raise serious concerns relating to sustainability and food security. 

Now, the key question here is that whether veganism or expecting people to shift completely to a plant-based diet is a simple solution to this mammoth protein challenge? 

To answer that: it’s still a grey area. 43% of people globally rely on animal-derived protein sources as a staple food. India is perceived to be largely vegetarian or dairy-oriented nation, yet it has over 70% of people consuming meat, fish, or eggs. 

Though the per capita consumption is low, the CAGR of layer poultry in our country is approximately 6-8 per cent, and that of broiler poultry and aquaculture is around 10-12 per cent in comparison to other agriculture forms where the growth is around 2.5 per cent per annum. 

But, if both plants and farmed animals are not a solution, then who or what can come to our rescue in order to create a more sustainable and secure food system? The answer could be – insects, maybe!

Insects In Animal Feed
BCCL/Representational Image

Insects are the natural food for fish, chicken, shrimp, and other livestock. Insects offer optimum nutrition and taste to the animals, leading to their optimum growth and immunity. 

Moreover, insects are nature’s scavengers who consume organic by-products and food rejects to grow rapidly, utilizing no arable land, little potable water, and with minimal GHG emissions. Research has shown upto a 20 per cent productivity boost, and upto 10 per cent improvement in the mortality rates in farmed animals with the inclusion of insect-based proteins and fats. 

It might feel odd to believe this, but over 2000 species of insects are cultivated globally for entomophagy, whereby eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults of certain insects are consumed by humans for thousands of years now. 

In fact, today, insects form a major part of the diet of 2 Billion people globally. Upto 80 per cent of insect body weight is edible in comparison to 55 per cent for chicken. Insects also perform better in feed conversion efficiency as they are cold-blooded and reproduce rapidly. 

They are dense in nutrition with 30-75 per cent protein and 15-40 per cent fats, and are a good source of all essential and non-essential amino acids, including high amounts of Vitamins B1, B2, B3, Iron and Zinc. This makes them a suitable source of nutrition as a feed ingredient as well as a food source. 

Animal Feed
Unsplash/Representational Image

Insect agriculture is not a new concept in itself; humans have been cultivating bees and silkworms for honey and silk respectively for many years. Off late companies globally have started commercially producing Black Soldier Flies, Crickets, Mealworms, Beatles, Grasshoppers, etc. by automating and scaling mass insect production. 

Most insects are rich in biomolecules that have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, and other useful properties, which could further lead to their use in Nutraceuticals and Pharmaceuticals, among other sectors. 

Thus, it is safe to conclude that insects could genuinely be ideal as the future of food and feed. Even the UN FAO already has recognized “Insects as the Future of Food & Feed”, and has published several reports stating its benefits!

Final Thoughts

Insects In Animal Feed
Unsplash/Representational Image

However, nutrition and environmental benefits alone cannot lead to a change in the perception of the average consumer for direct consumption of insect-based products. The Ick factor, possible distaste, probable harmful consequences, and in general ideational factors needs to be addressed before people can start accepting insects as a true food source or ingredient. 

It is also important that the insect farming and processing industry proves itself with significant scales of production, quality consistency & superiority, and economic viability. T

argeting the animal nutrition industry, followed by pet foods and other non-human or industrial uses of insects would be a practical way forward and shall give sufficient time to this booming industry to work on addressing the doubts and concerns about direct human consumption and use.

The author is co-founder, Loopworm, a startup working to create an extremely protein rich diet for fisheries and poultry farms. The opinion expressed are author’s own.

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