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The Future of Livestock Feed: Insect Farming




Currently, the agricultural industry contributes to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions alongside covering 38% of the global land surface, ultimately contributing to climate change and environmental degradation. However, 40% of the land used for crop production is utilized for feeding livestock consuming one-third of global cereal production. Thus, further improvements to the production of livestock feed require an alternate solution in order to limit the global impact. A new and rising method has been developed as a future and sustainable source of livestock feed, known as insect farming.


Now before I begin, you may ask, why is it important for the public to be informed about insect farming? Well seen similarly with GMO regulations, the public view is what determines many agricultural services in terms of legislation especially in the EU. This means that proper legislation may be passed that is based on facts rather than misinformation which has been seen with GMOs. This leads to the goal of this article which is to inform the public about the potential and limitations of insect farming.


To begin, insect farming is the large breeding and production of insects for livestock feed. This newly developed method has shown potential in providing sufficient nutrients to livestock, but most importantly reducing crop production. A notable example that exhibits the most potential is black soldier flies (BSF) (Hermetia illucens). BSF are an insect species that originated from South America, however currently, they’re located in all temperate climate regions. They’re detritivores, meaning, they obtain nutrients through the consumption of dead organic matter which includes food waste. Furthermore, the species exhibits a short and fast lifespan, living for approximately 38 days with numerous different life stages, which include egg, larvae, pupae, and adult stages. These attributes are what make BSF extremely efficient species for insect farming. First, they’re a non-invasive species, meaning they do not damage the ecosystem. BSF do not compete with other organisms for nutrients and most importantly BSF are not vectors for any animal or crop diseases, thus making them safe to be produced globally. Furthermore, their ability to transform dead organic matter into biomass has been exhibited to not only recycle waste but also provide high nutritional content for livestock. BSF, as larvae, consist of 50% proteins, fatty acids, and essential amino acids allowing for poultry, ruminants, and fish to consume. Finally, when compared to other species for insect farming, BSF have shorter and faster life stages allowing for a more efficient production. However, while BSF shows promise as a new alternative to livestock feed, it still contains limitations.


As aforementioned, BSF is accustomed to temperate climates, meaning for production they require specific living conditions, such as high relative temperature and humidity for optimum production. Unfortunately, due to these variables, a large amount of energy is consumed especially in climates BSF is not accustomed to. Another issue that arises is inbreeding which occurs when breeding organisms in captivity. Inbreeding decreases genetic diversity thus inheriting negative effects, namely, decreasing BSF populations. Furthermore, there is a lack of research exploring genetic management to mitigate inbreeding, making BSF farming a less reliable food source for livestock.


Currently, a company by the name of “Better Origin” has successfully produced and sold BSF as feed in the UK, being one of the first companies creating a fully automated system to produce BSF. The company’s goal is to reduce the 8% of greenhouse gas emissions produced by food waste by utilizing BSF. Presently, “Better Origin” has transformed the poultry, aquaculture, pet food, and waste management market further mitigating carbon emissions and environmental degradation by supplying alternate feed. 


In conclusion, insect farming, specifically BSF, exhibits extreme potential in replacing crops as livestock feed. It has exhibited the prospect of being a sustainable alternative to livestock feed by reducing the impact of climate change and environmental degradation in agriculture, while simultaneously assisting in feeding the world.



References:

Astuti, D.A. & Wiryawan, K.G. (2022) Black soldier fly as feed ingredient for ruminants. Animal Bioscience. 35 (2), 356–363. doi:10.5713/ab.21.0460.


Better Origin (2023) Better Origin - Fixing the broken food chain. 2023. Better Origin. https://betterorigin.co.uk/.


Foley, J.A., Ramankutty, N., Brauman, K.A., Cassidy, E.S., Gerber, J.S., et al. (2011) Solutions for a cultivated planet. Nature. 478 (7369), 337–342. doi:10.1038/nature10452.


Herrero, M., Wirsenius, S., Henderson, B., Rigolot, C., Thornton, P., Havlík, P., De Boer, I. & Gerber, P.J. (2015) Livestock and the Environment: What Have We Learned in the Past Decade? Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 40 (1), 177–202. doi:10.1146/annurev-environ-031113-093503.


Hoffmann, L., Hull, K.L., Bierman, A., Badenhorst, R., Bester-van Der Merwe, A.E. & Rhode, C. (2021) Patterns of Genetic Diversity and Mating Systems in a Mass-Reared Black Soldier Fly Colony. Insects. 12 (6), 480. doi:10.3390/insects12060480.


Miranda, C.D., Cammack, J.A. & Tomberlin, J.K. (2019) Life-History Traits of the Black Soldier Fly, Hermetia illucens (L.) (Diptera: Stratiomyidae), Reared on Three Manure Types. Animals. 9 (5), 281. doi:10.3390/ani9050281.


Mottet, A., De Haan, C., Falcucci, A., Tempio, G., Opio, C. & Gerber, P. (2017) Livestock: On our plates or eating at our table? A new analysis of the feed/food debate. Global Food Security. 14, 1–8. doi:10.1016/j.gfs.2017.01.001.


Shumo, M., Osuga, I.M., Khamis, F.M., Tanga, C.M., Fiaboe, K.K.M., Subramanian, S., Ekesi, S., Van Huis, A. & Borgemeister, C. (2019) The nutritive value of black soldier fly larvae reared on common organic waste streams in Kenya. Scientific Reports. 9 (1), 10110. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-46603-z.


Zulkifli, N.F.N.M., Seok-Kian, A.Y., Seng, L.L., Mustafa, S., Kim, Y.-S. & Shapawi, R. (2022) Nutritional value of black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) larvae processed by different methods P. Falabella (ed.). PLOS ONE. 17 (2), e0263924. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0263924.


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