Attention, steak eaters: We are nearing a livestock crisis.
With the planet expected to add another 2 billion people by 2050, it will be more difficult and more expensive than ever to keep eating poultry, fish, and beef at nearly every meal.
To meet global demand, the food industry could crank up the factory-food production model, but, as Arnold van Huis, a professor of tropical entomology at Wageningen University and Research Center, warns, “this puts heavy pressure on already limited resources of land, fertilizers and energy, while greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and environmental degradation will increase.” And it would do little to keep the cost of chicken, pork, beef, and fish under control.
There is a environmentally friendlier, more economical alternative, although it’s one that is high on the ick factor. We could introduce protein-rich insects into our diets.
Glen Courtright, a systems engineer and entrepreneur, is betting on the bugs. The Yellow Springs (Ohio)-based company he founded, EnviroFlight, has pioneered over the past three years a new bio-conversion facility powered by millions of mating black soldier flies and tens of millions of their wriggly offspring. The business is in the larvae.
“At our plant we can produce a few million black soldier fly eggs daily,” Courtright says. “That’s about 2,000 tons of a formulated animal feed every year.” For years, conservationists have been keen to exploit the voracious appetite of the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) to speed up composting of food wastes. Anglers know the species for their pupae, which make ideal bait. Chicken and pigs like the fatty, protein-rich larvae, too. EnviroFlight is among the first to industrialize the production of black soldier fly larvae to introduce a sustainable, chemical-free, protein-rich feed source for the food-processing industry. It’s part of a larger movement to tap insects (PDF) as a plentiful, more energy-efficient feed substitute that, it is hoped, could wean the food industry off the use of potentially harmful hormones and antibiotics to increase yields.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently warned that global food production must increase 60 percent by 2050 to keep up with population growth. “Every 12 days we can produce 225 pounds of clean safe feed ingredients for aquaculture, poultry, and crustacea—that’s the holy trinity of fish, shrimp, and chicken—in a three-foot-by-five-foot space. You can grow the equivalent of one of me every 12 days,” says Courtright.
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