Could Insects Be Used to Feed Pets and Other Animals?
By Liz Koutsos, Carrie Kuball, and Bree Modica
As the world reaches 9 billion people by the year 2050, food demand will increase as well. How will we feed this ever-growing population? One potential answer is to look at the most numerous and diverse group of organisms on earth—insects. According to the Smithsonian, there are at least 900,000 known living insect species around the world, accounting for 80% of species on earth. Not only can we consider the advantages of using insects to directly feed our expanding human population, but we can also use them to feed our pets, wild animals under managed care, and commercial agriculture species.
In September, a review article on insect composition and uses in animal feeding applications was published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. This blog post provides an overview and summary of the topics discussed.
Insect production can be highly sustainable and environmentally friendly. It typically requires less land and water inputs than other plant and animal production systems, and many insects can be raised on feedstock that would otherwise be destined for the landfill. Most commercial insect species grow and reproduce at a much faster rate than plants and animals, and can be produced by vertical farming, providing greater yield per acre than traditional plant and animal production methods (thousands of times more protein per acre!). Along with the production benefits, insects also provide both high nutritional value and a greater amount of edible material in contrast to animal proteins.
In general, insects are a good source of protein, most B-vitamins, and most minerals. Their nutritional composition can depend on species, age and life stage at harvest, and diet. For example, there are differences between holometabolous species (those with complete metamorphosis, such as butterflies or black soldier flies) and hemimetabolous species (those without a complete metamorphic change, such as crickets), since fat content of holometabolous larvae increases with age followed by a drop during the adult stage when fat is used as energy for pupation. This contrasts with hemimetabolous insects, where fat content slowly declines as the insect continues to age. Despite which developmental process an insect species follows, we can influence some of their nutritional contents by diet, including protein, fatty acids, vitamins D and E, carotenoids, calcium, copper, manganese, and zinc.
Insects are also a source of value-added components, including chitin, antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), and lauric acid. Chitin, a “fiber-like” part of the insect exoskeleton, can perform as a prebiotic, supporting friendly gut bacteria, and can directly supply protein for some animal species. Antimicrobial peptides can be beneficial by possessing antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic, and antiviral properties to optimize the health of the animal to which an insect is fed. Additionally, some insect species (particularly larvae of the black soldier fly) are good sources of lauric acid, which may also provide antibacterial properties. Lauric acid is the main fatty acid present in coconut and palm kernel oils, which do not have the same sustainable outlook as vertical farming of insects.
Along with the benefits of rearing insects as feed components, there are also concerns worth addressing. Bioaccumulation of minerals and heavy metals are of primary concern, and this issue is thus far known only in fly species. Feeding an appropriate diet that is not a source of compounds that could bioaccumulate and be problematic should be a primary consideration. Insect allergenicity may be a concern for individuals allergic to shellfish due to the protein tropomyosin, which is found in some insects and in shellfish. Therefore, insect ingredients should be labeled appropriately. Much like other food and feed production systems, microbiological issues (such as bacteria and fungi) may also be of concern if a kill step is not present during the processing of the insect. Furthermore, while there has been little research on the risks associated with parasites or viruses, this should also be mitigated with proper food safety and processing programs.
Being a part of insect production for food and feed means being a part of an innovative new field focused on providing sustainably reared protein sources to animals and humans. It’s exciting to think of the untapped potential of insects and the problems that may be addressed using a fraction of the estimated quintillion individual insects on earth.
Annals of the Entomological Society of America
Liz Koutsos, PhD, is president and CEO of EnviroFlight, LLC, Maysville, KY. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Carrie Kuball, MS, is VP, sales & marketing, of EnviroFlight, LLC. Email: email@example.com. Bree Modica, MS, is a technical sales representative with EnviroFlight, LLC. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org