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Seeing business in insects for our #food supply
Seeing business in insects for our #food supply
Gardening & Agriculture Gardening & Agriculture

Eating insects: most people will still be horrified. Nevertheless, large-scale breeding of insects offers opportunities for the food. According to some, insects are the future. Because of their high levels of protein, there is a lot of potential in the animals. Both for application as human food and for animal feed. In the past 10 years, the interest in insects and their applications has grown enormously. Much more attention has recently been paid to alternative sources of protein, of which insects are a good example.
Chocolate with insects inside hold by a hand
Chocolate with insect larvae. Insects in human nutrition is, besides application in cattle feed, also an option. Entomologist Arnold van Huis, however, sees more in the application in animal feed

Insects as a protein source

Just a refresher: why are you looking for alternative sources of protein? The current sources of protein in the form of meat and soy are increasingly under pressure because of their adverse effects. Examples are the use of land and water, the emission of greenhouse gases and other (health) problems attributed to livestock farming. Given the growing world population and the growing need for food and especially proteins, the question is how to meet this need in the future.
'The land use of, for example, mealworms for a kilo of protein is 10 times less than that for cattle'. A solution to this could be attributed to insects.

As a replacement for meat in people's diet or as an important ingredient in animal feed. The land use of, for example, mealworms for a kilo of protein is 10 times less than that for cattle and 3 times less than for pigs.

Feed conversion of insects more favorable

The feed conversion of insects is also much lower than that of pigs or cattle. As far as the feed of the insects is concerned, the creatures can play a major role in making the food chain circular. Insects can be grown on residual flows from the food chain and on manure. Manure is not yet permitted as an official feed for insects; the safety of this is not yet clear enough. The legislation on insects is not yet sufficient in other respects to extract everything from insect breeding.

Insect is an ‘agricultural pet’
Bugs on a plate with salad
Insects are classified as farm animals according to European legislation. After the BSE crisis, it has been illegal since 2000 to feed animal proteins to farm animals. This means that insects may not be fed animal proteins, with a number of exceptions, but also that insects may not be fed to other farm animals. Halfway through last year seven insect species were allowed as animal feed in fish farming. In addition, since January 1, 2018, food with insects has been subject to the so-called 'novel foods' according to European legislation. This means that food products with insects now have a legal framework to legally enter the European market.

Arnold van Huis, who works at Wageningen University as an entomologist (insect expert), however, expects that the legislation will not be long in coming. He finds it difficult to estimate how long it will take exactly before the European rules for all kinds of insect applications are adapted. In doing so, he mainly refers to allowing manure as food for insects and insects as cattle feed. Van Huis does expect that it will be within a few years.

Insect sector is booming

Judging by the rise of a meeting about the use of insects in the food industry, the insect sector is booming. Both Belgians and Dutch came in large numbers. The interest in the latest developments in the field of insects was great. According to Van Huis, the Netherlands is at the forefront of the insect sector, but it may well be that the Netherlands will soon be overtaken by, for example, Belgium. Simultaneously with the meeting a new facility was opened at the location for research into insect breeding.

Because the growing of insects is such a relatively new activity, much research is still needed

The insect culture is a fairly new sector. Van Huis illustrates with a simple internet search that the number of scientific articles about insects has increased enormously in recent years. However, much more research is needed. Among others to: the suitability of different species, residual flows as food,  scaling up the insect culture, automation, creating a solid market, the area of ​​food safety.
In addition, little is known about diseases in insects that are grown.


At the moment, insect breeding is accompanied by a lot of manual labor. Feeding in particular takes a lot of time. In order to be able to use the insects as animal feed, scale-up is necessary. For that it is also important that the insect culture is automated. This could also lower the cost price.

A report by ABN Amro (Dutch Bank) about the cultivation of insects shows that 800 tons of insect proteins are needed to replace 1% of the total suckling pig feed in the Netherlands and to replace 70,000 tons as 1% of the total volume of broiler feed. At the moment 25 nurseries produce about 500 tons in the Netherlands. This means that when feeding insects becomes a real option, scale-up is necessary.

When legislation allows insects in animal feed, scale up of breeding is necessary.

The chances for insects as feed and human food seem good. Van Huis sees more potential in insects as animal feed than as human food. Changing people's behavioral and dietary patterns is very difficult, says van Huis. When the legislation changed for the insect culture, House expects an explosion in the cultivation and applications of insects. At least there are already many who see bread in insect breeding. In insects in bread, however, a little less.

By: Carolien Kloosterman