How alternative protein sources like insect-based feed and lab-grown meat are impacting animal agriculture

Year by year, decade by decade, the world is ever changing. The global population continues to increase, economic status is rising, thus creating change in lifestyles, how we consume food and preferences around the world. These demands affect our livestock production and their feed sources.

Currently, livestock protein feed is predominantly corn, soymeal, other grains and fishmeal. As the global appetite for meat continues to grow, alternative feed sources need to be examined. A source of feed that is garnering a lot of interest is insect-based feed. It is a low-cost, nutritious and eco-friendly alternative that is almost completely sustainable. As with any new innovation in any industry, development and trials are necessary to explore the full potential.

Conventional feed sources require large amounts of land and water. Insect-based feed sourcing has very low requirements and a high conversion efficiency into insect biomass. For approximately every one acre of insect farming, you would need one hundred acres of land to produce the same amount of protein as soybeans. Insect-based feed is a more economical source because all parts of the insect can be used. Not only are the protein and oil being extracted, but excretions are also used as fertilizer. The use of insects could also significantly reduce the environmental footprint of livestock production.

A wide range of insects are used in this form of livestock feed. Black Soldier Fly, larvae, house fly maggots, mealworms, silkworms and locusts-grasshopper-crickets are the most commonly used and most suitable for feed. An Industrial, mass-production operation can feasibly produce at least one ton per day of dry insect weight. Insect farming facilities are able to produce feed year-round due to the ability to control temperatures. Aside from the dry insect production which can be used to feed fish, pets and livestock, the by-products that are harvested from the insects are very beneficial to livestock as well. The oil that is extracted is rich in lauric acid that improves the intestinal health of animals, most notably in piglets.

As with any new innovation, there are challenges. And when those innovations directly, or indirectly, affect the human race, those challenges are in the form of regulations and barriers. These regulations are necessary for the safety of the producer and the consumer. For instance, in the European Union (EU), insects as feed are considered as Processed Animal Proteins (PAPs). Because of this distinction, insects cannot be fed to farmed animals, and therefore this ceases efficient insect farming. Due to this regulation in the EU, it creates a barrier for the industry to take off worldwide. However, regulatory agencies are beginning to weigh the pros and cons of insect farming and the potential safety risks.

Through research and development of insect farming, many of the risks associated with insect-based feed can be addressed and mitigated before they ever become an issue. Key areas of research that are being studied further are the potential allergenic issues, the safety of using manure to raise the insects, and feed safety such as contaminants, pathogens, heavy metals and allergens. The standards and quality for these risks need to be high and guaranteed.

Although new innovation in the protein scene, lab-grown meat is beginning to receive approvals from the Food and Drug Administration. Lab-grown meat is harvested from cells of live animals and uses the cells to grow meat in stainless-steel tanks. This could be an alternative to raising livestock conventionally.

In the end, successful implementation of insect-based livestock feed or lab-grown meat will require close cooperation of government, academia and industry. Researchers need funds, governments need research and industries need amended regulations with a scientific foundation to produce safe products that are trustworthy. It will take all three areas to work together to achieve any new ways of producing protein for the global community.

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