Protein from insects – the trend of the future in agriculture

Bars, chips, pasta and even alcoholic cocktails made of insects are already a reality. Insect farms received $ 277 million in investment, and this number will only grow.

We are used to perceive insects as pests. But they are also a source of protein, which is in no way inferior to meat. So far, insect food is not a popular idea. First of all, due to the fact that most people dislike the idea of ​​eating food from bugs and cockroaches.

Considerable funds are already invested in the production of insect feed for animals. And the mass production of food for people from such a protein is a matter of time.

Insect Protein Stops Feed Price Rises

Traditional livestock production accounts for 70% of agricultural land, including 33% for agricultural crops for feed.

The need for food will grow, along with population growth. There are no special resources for expanding the area for agriculture. We need to look for alternative ways to “get” sources of calories for livestock. As a rule, raw materials with a high protein content range from 50 to 70 percent of the cost of livestock production. In 2017, the global feed industry is valued at $ 430 billion.

Stocks of wild fish in the ocean are also running out. This has caused the growth of fish farms and the development of aquaculture. For example, in Vietnam, the area of ​​aquatic farms doubled from 2000 to 2010, and production reached more than a million tons of fish.

In 2014, more fish are produced in special farms in the world than are caught in the ocean. It is expected that by 2030 на of world fish production will be in farms.

The growth of aquaculture farms has increased the price of fish feed. And with the development of aquatic technologies – the price will rise further. Cheaper production will be able to feed from insects.

Insects are common food for many animals. Their protein can replace from 25% to 100% of the existing feed, depending on the type of animal. This protein is easily absorbed and is not inferior to its analogues in its nutritional properties.

$ 276 million investment already in insect protein production

So far, the European Union has not given permission to use insect feed in livestock. Approved only such feed for aquaculture. It is expected that only by 2019 insect protein will be allowed to be used in poultry farms.

In the United States, the situation is simpler – Enterra has already received permission to sell fish feed this year. This industry is growing rapidly, but there are no accurate statistics. An independent analysis from CB Insights and Crunchbase showed that from 2009 to June 2018, more than 50 companies received funding for insect protein-related projects. Of these, 42 companies received $ 277 million.

Most companies are located in Europe – they received 84% of the financing. Companies from North America received a total of $ 26 million in investments: Enterra ($ 10 million), eXo ($ 5.2 million) and Entomo Farms ($ 3.3 million).

Actively developing insect farms in China. Local firms from suppliers of raw materials for the production of drugs are moving into the feed business. In Shandong Province alone, 400 cockroach farms have already been formed .

Black lions, mealworms and cockroaches are ideal sources of protein for animals

In practice, flour worms, cockroaches and black lions are used as raw materials for industrial feed production . And for food production, mainly crickets are used. Although Nicole Kidman recently demonstrated that worms, grasshoppers and cockroaches can be eaten calmly.

Black lion cubs recycle livestock waste well. Therefore, these are promising insects for the feed business – they process waste and are raw materials for the production of feed. Most of the companies that have attracted investment deal with black lions. These are AgriProtein, Protix Biosystems, InnovaFeed, Enterra and Nextalim.

Global corporations that produce food have also become interested in this type of protein. The agro-industrial corporation ADM has acquired the French company Neovia, which is engaged in insect feed for animals. McDonald’s is looking for a producer of such chicken feed.

Cricket the worm

In the United States, there are many startups that are engaged in the production of food based on protein crickets. Moreover, the range of such food is growing. There are already eXo protein fitness bars , Chapul chocolate bars , Six Food chips , Bugsolutely pasta and even Citterbitters cocktail bitter and Aspire’s Aketta flour.

In March 2018, Loblaws, Canada’s largest food retailer, launched cricket powder called President’s Choice. And one of Canada’s leading meat suppliers, Maple Leaf Foods, invested $ 1.4 million in Entomo Farms.

Insect farms are actively innovating in production

Regardless of whether insects are used for food or for food, caring for them is time-consuming, and the products are not yet popular. Therefore, farms merge with feed producers to optimize production.

In addition, farms are developing systems for efficient production. Ynsect grows flourworm larvae using machine learning technology. Farms use IoT sensors. Similarly, Aspire launched its first automated cricket farm in 2017. It uses robots. They feed crickets and also collect data from over 30 million data points. Information is processed and optimal conditions for the growth of crickets are determined.  

The largest Chinese cockroach farm annually grows 6 billion insects for medicine. It uses a system that collects and analyzes over 80 categories of data, including humidity, temperature, nutrition, and how genetic mutations affect cockroach growth rates.

In the future, global food corporations will pay attention to insect protein 

Swiss food supplier Bühler, with sales of 2.6 billion, jointly with Protix and created a joint venture Bühler Insect Technology Solutions . The construction of Europe’s largest insect processing plant is already nearing completion.

In the USA, they created a modular system Cowboy Cricket Farms. This is an autonomous insect farm that regulates temperature and humidity, controls air quality and maintains feed and water.

Tiny Farms plans to license its turnkey insect farm so farmers can produce crickets to specifications and sell them for processing.

AgriProtein raised $ 105 million to expand capacity in Africa and Asia. Local waste will be used as an inexpensive feed for larvae. The project will install six plants, each of which will receive 250 tons of raw materials per day and produce 50 tons of larvae per day.

These are just a few examples of how the industry is developing. Insect farms are a very promising area of ​​agriculture. Insects reproduce quickly and in large quantities. Breeders are actively engaged in the cultivation of insects, the cultivation of which will be even more effective. Hendrix Genetics is actively working in this direction.

Genetic modification of plants using virus-transmitting insects – a remedy or biological weapon?

The U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is exploring the potential for genetic modification of plants using virus-transmitting insects. Some scholars and lawyers believe the Insect Allies program is uncontrollable and can destroy plants.

Researchers said their program will help protect against droughts, floods and frosts. It will also preserve the state’s food if a foreign attack occurs.

Blake Beckstein, manager of Insect Allies, denies critics’ allegations of uncontrollability and claims that emergency shutdown methods are built into the system if necessary.

DARPA is funded by the US government as a state food protection measure. The four-year program began in 2016 with a budget of $ 45 million.

Researchers plan to provide plants with protective genes in one season. Modern genetic engineering can modify plants over several generations of plants, and the new method, if implemented, will be much faster.

Several scholars and lawyers have expressed concern about the progress of the research. An article appeared in Science magazine on October 4, where Insect Allies is called a biological weapon that can destroy a number of cultures.

Guy Reeves, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology , said it’s hard for him to imagine how the viruses spread by insects can be controlled.

DARPA, in its defense, stated that the program is completely transparent and that food supply is an important part of national security that is often underestimated.

For more than two years, scientists from various universities, including from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas at Austin , conducted experiments under the project.

DARPA also invited to the meeting dedicated to Insect Allies, representatives from the US Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency .

DARPA hopes that the new technology will help grow crops without fear of droughts, floods, diseases, frosts and biological attacks from other countries. According to The New York Times , one of the crops studied is corn, a key food crop in Latin America and Africa.

Critics, even if the results are published, will consider Insect Allies a biological weapons project. According to Reeves, insects are not needed to help farmers, but to carry viruses that can destroy crops .

The creation of DARPA may encourage other countries to do research in this area. The development of militaristic programs often involves a response to the creation of similar programs by an opponent.

Critics think that DARPA should focus on existing crop protection methods, such as spraying. The agency believes that this is not an accurate and too expensive method.

Beckstein claims that insects do not completely change the genome of the plant. For example, if there should be a drought, then you can direct the system so that it helps to survive this period, and then return to its natural state.

According to Beckstein, they are creating an instrument of the future, but it is largely based on an existing one. DARPA researchers are required to create at least three ways to destroy the system.

However, Reeves believes that this is not enough and the organization that is involved in such a potentially dangerous project should be more strictly controlled.

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