Insects as Poultry Feed: The Insects in Question

In 2013, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a statistic stating that by 2050, we need a 60-70% increase in the production of animal products to meet demand.  While it’d be nice to assume that it’s solely due to a massive expansion by In-N-Out and Chipotle, the WHO proved me wrong by citing greater accessibility to meat products.  This is the result of a combination of factors being lower price point, health recommendations of a more balanced diet, and that ever elusive cultural ‘x’ factor which is never quantifiable in science, but yet is always mentioned.  Oh, and then there’s the fact that on average, the world eats 500 calories more per day, per capita now than in 1965.

The result of this was the very first Insect Food conference brought together by Wageningen University and the FAO back in May of 2014.  Aside from sounding like German slang for finger waging, Wageningen University is a international institution in the Netherlands known for their progressive research, especially in the field of entomology.   Point is, Europe in general is very open to the idea of insects as food, not only for humans, but for their livestock.  Luckily for me, this means loads of articles from which I may extract statistics in order to make myself sound much more informed than I really am.   I’ll go ahead and talk about the insects, their nutritional advantage, and methods of utilizations.

The Insects

Scientists are pretty smart.  In fact, they’re smart enough to know just how bad we are when it comes to discovering new species of insects. We’re actually far too busy discovering who just created an instagram profile to garner followers that would, like, totally like those beach photos you took with the #squad.

Pictured: the type of people who use the word ‘#squad’ the most

In fact they estimate that we’ve only discovered one million out of a potential 30 million insect species.  So its anyone’s guess how the heck researchers jackknifed that list down to about five species suitable for animal consumption.  These are the Black Soldier Fly, Housefly, Mealworm, Crickets, and Silkworm.  Each come with their own benefit but I’ll make like MC Hammer and break it down for you.

First on pretty much every entomologists’ list is the Black Soldier Fly.  Typically we as a western society misconstrue insects in the same fashion we do porn stars.  The largest of these assumptions is that they are filthy and a vector for disease transmission.  Which a porn star could tell you is definitely not the case in today’s market.  Black Soldier Flies and their larvae are an anomaly in this sense.  They aren’t a host for zoonotic diseases and they grow incredibly fast.   This already puts them ahead of mealworms, silkworms,  and crickets .

However, this doesn’t necessarily discount our other contenders.   Mealworms can be grown by pretty much anyone very easily and there is years of documented scientific research behind how to rear them, going back all the way to the 70’s.  The same applies for silkworms (due to usage in Asia) and crickets (for exotic pets).    To make an analogy: if mealworms, silkworms, crickets, and houseflies were job applicants,  they’d be the head of their own respective fields, complete with a Ivy League degree and the snobbish humble bragging that goes with it.

Black Soldier Flies are the new kid on the block.  The genius stoner that doesn’t excel at any one particular field, but is really likable were it not for the fact he/she is digging into your break room donuts, as I type.  I think he’s probably already reaching for that maple bar you were eyeing for lunch. Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty of nutrition.

Fox News coincidentally has him labeled under “Black Soldier Fly”

The Nutrition

“If it fits your macros”.  This is a term used by bros who really know their stuff in the gym.  You hear this phrase, you fist bump that guy, and he turns his snapback cap as a sign of respect.  It is a phrase that can capsulate the nuances of bodybuilding nutrition to a basic doctrine that even the most brain dead meat head can follow.

Nutrients can be seen at a micro (amino acids) or macro (protein) scale.  If you take the full nutritional profile of what an organism needed on a daily bases and split it into macros, you’d have fats, carbohydrates, ash(minerals), protein, fiber, and calories; which is what can be used as analysis for livestock.  As I’ve mentioned in my previous article, the current animal feed can reach a feed conversion ratio to about 2:1.  2 lbs of feed to yield 1 lb of meat.  When it comes to the macros of insects.  You could have a potential 1.3:1.   However, this is where and why micro-nutrition is so important.

Take our black soldier fly for example, for fish that don’t require much of anything other than fat to grow, it is sometimes substituted entirely as their food source.   When it came to pigs though, it lacked methionine and cysteine, two very important amino acids needed to for the swine to make protein.  Even when it was replaced for poultry feed as a substitute for soymeal, they were only about 96% as effective for weight gain.  Why is that?

Holy Clucker of chickens, Batman!

This is a chart of all the nutrients that go into rearing a chicken for slaughter.  Note how detailed it is, that there is phasing and a precise amount of micro nutrition a farmer needs to take note of.  Our current feed is designed to meet these needs precisely.  The ingredients for the feed (mainly corn/soy) are engineered to be homogenous, that is, not have variations in quality and nutrition.

Insects have huge amounts of variation.  Even in their macros, they vary from species to species, and in their micros, from individual to individual.  That’s because they are exothermic creatures, with no way of maintaining homeostasis like mammals do.  That means they are even more sensitive to the environment around them .  Depending on how you rear them and what you feed them, they can turn out a lot differently than what studies can show.  Making it a harder sell as a magic bullet to our potential meat supply deficiency by 2050.

Methods of Utilization

Whew!  I finally made it to here.  No more digging out all that science.

Here’s where the creativity part comes into play.  Insects are not completely out of the equation.  Much like Trump’s outlook of handling migrant workers, insects are not meant to be underestimated.  They can be grown in huge amounts in a fast amount of time, Thailand pretty much has this down to an exact science.  You don’t need a fancy facility to grow them in either, even a bunch of egg cartons would do just fine.  This means that they are deployable anywhere in the world, no matter what level of income.

Furthermore, you can feed them food waste, manure, or even grass clippings.  These guys can grow on practically anything. It means that like that really obnoxious yogi enthusiast in your friend group, they are incredibly flexible (not annoying, but yogis can come off as that too).

You think a locker room smells bad, wait until you’re stuck a room of these

Considering the recent Ashley Madison scandal, it is clear to see that commitment scares the crap out of everyone, but you don’t have to worry about that with insects.  They are so nutrient dense that even supplementing a portion of your animal feed is possible.  Heck, you can even render them for their fats and sell them as supplements as well.  Ask any entomologist and he/she would tell you that insects run the world despite Beyoncé’s best efforts.  They are universal despite being overlooked for so long.

The last time America really latched onto an European trend, it was the Revolutionary War and boat shoes.  Both of which turned out great (okay, maybe because I really like boat shoes).   So isn’t it high time we did the same, and admit that they’re onto something pretty cool again?

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