Thu, Apr 19, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Insect farms gear up to feed soaring
global protein demand

Snacking on bugs is not an appealing prospect for many people, so introducing insect protein further down the food chain could be a more palatable option

By Karl Plume  /  Reuters, LANGLEY, British Columbia

“They are considered filth in the food system,” said Virginia Emery, chief executive officer of Beta Hatch, which grows mealworms above an auto body shop near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Cargill conducted an insect-based feed trial on poultry in 2015, but the company’s efforts with insects have since focused on bolstering its growing aquaculture business, where demand for alternative proteins is most acute.

Beta Hatch is chasing the same market. The small company’s mealworms — larvae of the mealworm beetle — will likely end up as fish food as Emery expands her business with the help of an investment from Wilbur-Ellis, whose fish-farming customers have pressed for sustainable alternatives to fishmeal.

“Fishmeal has a limited supply and aquaculture is continuing to grow,” said Andrew Loder, president of Wilbur-Ellis’ feed division. “We see insect meal as one piece of a solution.”

Fish farming is growing fast with growing consumer demand and increasing concerns about overfishing, resulting in catch restrictions in many depleted fisheries. Warming oceans in some areas have also disrupted supplies.

That means fish eaten by humans will increasingly come from farms — driving up demand and prices for fish feed.

Fishmeal is made from wild-caught anchoveta, herring and other oily fish that represent about 25 percent of a typical aquaculture feed ration, which usually also includes grains or soybean meal.

However, fish farms cannot rely solely on crop-based feeds to nourish their naturally carnivorous stock.

“You can feed an animal all grain, and it will grow, but it might not grow as quickly and efficiently and may be prone to disease,” Enterra chief technology officer Andrew Vickerson said.

Insect farmers grow black soldier fly larvae and mealworms because they are docile, easy to grow, and high in protein and digestible fat.

Mealworms can be grown with little water and studies have shown they can “rescue” nutrients by consuming grains not fit for livestock production without passing on harmful toxins.

Black soldier fly larvae also contain high levels of calcium and iron, and can feed on a broad array of food waste.

Crickets — a favorite for human consumption in some countries — are by contrast picky eaters. They are also noisy and can damage nearby crops if they escape.

Enterra is expanding to a second commercial-scale plant in Calgary within the next year and targeting opening similar facilities in other North American cities every year for the next five years, with financing from Calgary-based Avrio Capital and UK-based Wheat Sheaf.

Protix opened its first commercial black soldier fly larvae plant in the Netherlands last year and is to break ground on a second facility there later this year, aided by a US$50 million investment from Buhler.

The Dutch company, working with fish farmers, has also launched a brand of “friendly salmon,” fed with rations containing insect meal instead of fish meal.

“If we are able to be successful in Europe, then this will be a global solution,” Protix chief executive officer Kees Aarts said.

Neither company would disclose the production costs or capacity, citing proprietary technology, but both said their insect feed prices are on par with or slightly above competing feeds like fish meal.

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