Insects, the raw material for the future of food, feed, and cosmetics

UN estimates that the global population will reach nine billion by 2050, which means another two billion mouths to feed. Meanwhile, consumption of animal products such as meat, egg, and milk continues to rise, putting a lot of pressure on the environment.

That insects have been put forward as a solution for all of this might come as a surprise. But around 2000 insect species are already consumed by humans and domesticated animals in large parts of the world. Insects have high protein content, favorable fats and, in some cases, healthy minerals and vitamins. They are much better than conventional farmed animals at converting nutrition from feedstock, such as compost and other types of biological waste, to bodyweight. And according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, using insects for food and feed has lower environmental impact than conventional sources.

Despite regulatory hurdles in North America and Europe, a number of edible insect products have already hit the market: cricket pasta, honey caterpillar croquettes, mealworm cookies, and mixed insect snacks, to mention a few. In the Netherlands, an insect industry pioneer, edible insects can be bought from the supermarket.

Long before insects become an important source of nutrition for humans, they will be used as ingredients in feed, especially for acquaculture and poultry. Many people believe that the first industry to face a threat from insect meal will be that for fish meal – a 7 billion dollar opportunity based on 2015 numbers. But application areas can also be found outside food and feed. Insect oils can become used in cosmetics and for industrial applications, and chitin extracted from insects can be used for applications ranging from water purification to pharmaceuticals.

But there are several things that need to happen for insect products to move from possibility to reality on a large scale. Regulation in Europe only allows limited use of insect products, though the trend is toward greater liberty. The “yuck factor” among consumers is another obstacle that the industry needs to overcome. In order to reach price levels where insects can compete with other raw materials, production needs to be automated and scaled up without compromising quality. Finally, an ecosystem of actors needs to emerge to infuse the industry with the vitality and innovation needed for it to take off.

If you want to better understand the insect opportunity – or threat – for your company and industry, do not hesitate to get in touch with Tomas Larsson,