A New Source Of Protein
Growing population and change in our food consumption habits are putting a high pressure on food commodities. Current sources of proteins like fishmeal or soymeal are unsustainable. Feed companies and entrepreneurs are exploring different ways to reduce the use of those unsustainable ingredients. Among potential alternatives, insect derived meal seems to have a bright future.
The insect industry is growing and developing at a fast path in Europe, in the US and in Asia. Among the different insects produced (mealworms, crickets, grasshoppers, etc.), one particular species seems to take the lead for the feed applications: Hermetia illucens, best known as the Black Soldier Fly.
Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens)
The Hermetia Illucens or Black Soldier Fly (BSF) is naturally present in almost all tropical regions of the world. The BSF larva is known as being an efficient bio-convertor and a valuable feeding resource. The female lays up to 1000 eggs and the lifecycle from egg to fly can be as short as 30 days. Startups in this field develop an innovative process converting low value organic substrate thanks to these larvae (noted that EU Commission has already a legal framework for allowed raw materials).
After 1 week growing, insects larvae are harvested after reaching optimal bodyweight and processed into different products including but not limited to high protein insect meal and insectoil. Indeed most Hermetia product on the market are fat extracted to increase protein content and allow for longer shelf life. Macronutrients of this insect meal are typically in the ranges as follow:
Analysis shows that the amino acid pattern of BSF larvae is comparable to that of fishmeal. It is especially rich in Tryptophan, Valine, Isoleucine and Leucine. It is not irrational to feed fishes, chickens or even pigs with larvae, as insects are already a natural part of those animals’ diets.
Many trials have been performed around the world in order to measure the impact of the inclusion of black soldier meal in aqua feed, poultry feed or swine feed. Results are very encouraging. Growth rates of fishes fed with BSF representing 30% of the total diet were not significantly different from fish fed with traditional diets. Sensory tests have also been conducting and no significant differences were detected.
Apart from having a high protein content, larvae contains desirable minerals like calcium and phosphorous. The concentration of these desirable minerals is higher than in most of other insects. Calcium is for instance a very important part of chicken diets and more particularly for laying hens. This insect also contains a significant amount of lauric acid, which is known to have microbial properties (Batovska, et al., 2009). This acid can also be found in vegetable oils like coconut oil. As most of other insects, BSF larvae exoskeleton contains chitin. This derivative of glucose has already proved to protect white shrimps from certain bacteria (Wang, et al., 2004).
While volumes remain low at the moment, several companies have proven to be able to scale their technology and reduce their costs with the goal of being competitive with fishmeal. In the meantime, most companies position this insect meal as a low inclusion rate product with functionalities such as palatability or immunostimulant properties for farmed animals. Others, mostly in Europe, target the pet food industry which seems to value hypoallergenic properties and the innovative & sustainable image.
The palatant functionality of BSF meal has been proven in several trials with the white leg shrimp as well as with snakehead fish in Vietnam. With an inclusion rate of only 1%, feed intake was higher and FCR not affected (compared to Squid Liver Meal and Hydrolyzed Fish Solubles). This palatant property makes sense since it replicates what mother’s nature has done for millions of years. Fishes or shrimps do not eat soy and pigs do not eat fishes in nature … insects is part of their natural diet.
While several challenges remain, it seems BSF meal will become a viable alternative to some protein sources in the very near future. BSF meal is available at a stable price all year round, which is also a good point to keep in mind for this ingredient. First commercial batches will soon be available in Vietnam at 1600 USD/Ton but this price may go down to 1200 USD/Ton in the coming years.