Could the livestock feed rations of the future be going buggy? Maybe, although it appears it won’t be an overnight transition, and may happen largely in developing regions of the world.

According to a summary published on www.allaboutfeed.net, companies producing cultivated insect protein are emerging around the globe. Dutch and French researchers are pioneering the potential insect-meal revolution, but commercial operations also now exist in Canada, Germany, Lithuania, Malaysia, South Africa, Spain, the United States and Vietnam.

Most of these businesses are producing and processing the Black Soldier Fly, followed by the Housefly and Mealworm. Harvesting typically happens at the larval stage – in short, turning maggots into meal.

At this point, the most likely consumers of that meal are fish. The amino acid profile of larval meal is very similar to that of fish meal, making it an ideal protein source for aquaculture rations. Farmed fish such as salmon and trout often are fed ground meal from less-desirable fish like sardines, anchovies and menhaden. Insect protein could be a more stable feed source, plus it results in lower phosphorus waste production compared to higher-fiber fish meal.

Two of the most prominent U.S. insect production companies are EnviroFlight in Ohio, and River Road Research in California. Both companies use food waste and co-products as the substrate for their insect feed, emphasizing the eco-friendly and sustainability advantages of their production systems.

EnviroFlight cultivates the Black Soldier Fly, utilizing both its waste products and larval meal. The larvae feed off of co-products from breweries, ethanol production and pre-consumer food waste. The “manure” from the larvae, called “frass,” becomes a high-protein, low-fat feedstuff for omnivorous species such as tilapia, freshwater prawns and catfish.  The company notes this material also could be a beneficial protein source for poultry, swine and cattle.

The larvae themselves also are utilized as a feedstuff. EnviroFlight cooks, dries and converts them into a meal that is 40% protein and 46% fat. The oils also can be extracted, which boosts the protein content to above 70%.

The company notes that ammonia created in frass production is immediately stabilized, which keeps the nitrogen fixed, eliminates odor; and prevents the formation of molds and mycotoxins. The frass also can be used as an organic vegetable fertilizer, with an approximate N-P-K value of 5-3-2.

Many proponents of insect production also promote human insect consumption as a protein-source replacement for conventional meats. But a recent study summarized in Time magazine showed the potential for that application is currently less promising. Insect products were, in most cases, found to be merely nutritionally equal to, or less beneficial, than pork, beef or chicken. Another study showed that raising crickets was on par with raising chicken in terms of environmental impact. In both comparisons, it becomes a hard sell to convince people of the virtues of eating bugs.

Perhaps the most likely and promising application of insect protein as a feed source is in regions of the world where food supplies are scarce, and growing conditions are not conducive to more traditional types of agriculture. Most insect husbandry systems are self-contained and fairly small in size. They can operate in any climate and utilize a broad range of feed substrates -- such as damaged crops, post-consumer food waste or manufacturing co-products – depending on what is available in the region.