Insect Farming and How it is Supporting the Race to Net Zero
One Of The Major Challenges Fuelling Climate Change
The effects of animal feed such as soy on the environment are of increasing concern as worldwide, 80 billion animals are reared and slaughtered each year, with all these farmed animals requiring their own nutrition in the form of animal feed for growth and metabolism. Growing this feed unfortunately requires precious resources like land and water. The production of soy in particular (75% of which is used in animal feed) is fuelling climate change through deforestation and habitat conversion in critical ecosystems along with the overuse of harsh farm chemicals (WWF, Future of Feed Report). In recent years, as livestock and farmed fish production have expanded, the sustainability of common animal feed sources has quite rightly come into question. Aquaculture production has increased by over 50 times since 1960, putting increasing pressure on fishmeal (a feed ingredient made from wild-caught fish and fish by-products) and soybean meal. Both these ingredients will struggle to meet increased demand, and as prices rise, the demand for alternatives will increase (Barclays, Insect Protein Report).
Who Are Beta Bugs – How Are We Contributing Towards Zero Waste And Circular Economy?
Beta Bugs was founded in 2017 by Thomas Farrugia, with early-stage investment from Deep Science Ventures in London. Securing competitive grant funding, the company relocated operations to the Easter Bush Campus, a world-leading agri-food research, work and study environment, just outside of Edinburgh, in 2019. Its focus as an insect genetics company is to develop and distribute Black Soldier Fly breeds to the insect farming sector, with a mission to double the output of the entire industry through the use of genetics. At Beta Bugs there are no problems, only challenges!
“Beta Bugs was set up to address the missing link in insect farming – genetics. In doing so, we enable our industry to achieve scale whilst maintaining product quality and achieving price competitiveness. ” – Thomas Farrugia, Founder and CEO
By applying tried and tested breeding techniques, utilizing high-throughput technologies and leveraging Black Soldier Fly biology, the company is achieving improved genetic performance and bringing it to market, contributing towards addressing the growing climate crisis and giving an alternative, sustainable protein source of feed to animals.
Insect Farming – What is it?
Insect farming involves breeding, rearing and harvesting insects which can be used for a number of purposes, including as an ingredient for animal feed.
The diet of the insects is closely monitored and controlled in compliance with the current standards for animal feed. The substrate (from which the insect obtains its nourishment) is sourced from registered operators and often prepared in order to match the dietary requirements of the Black Soldier Fly and their lifecycle. After the larval stage of the BSF life cycle, the leftovers are used as fertilising material on nearby agricultural land, which ensures a circular approach that values the importance of soil fertility.
About The Black Soldier Fly
The Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia Illucens or BSF) is one of nature’s coolest little superheroes!
The Black Soldier Fly and its larvae are being farmed worldwide as an alternative protein source that can be used in aquaculture, pork, and poultry feed. Alongside this, they can be reared on various waste streams, including agricultural and food waste. This rapidly developing industry provides a green, circular, and regionally produced alternative to the environmentally damaging production of soy meal and fishmeal. However, although it has been farmed commercially for the past decade, Black Soldier Fly have not yet been genetically improved for large-scale production….until now!
The BSF adult lives for around 10-14 days and survives mainly on the fat reserves that build up during the larval phase. The flies have no stinging, chewing or sucking mouthparts and because of this they don’t transmit diseases, contrary to other fly species. They are therefore not considered a pest species in the countries where they occur naturally which is a major plus point for these little soldiers!
Black Soldier Fly Lifecycle
The larvae however are always hungry and have a huge appetite! They can feed on organic materials such as plant residues, manure and even carcasses. It takes around 40 days for the life cycle to complete (egg to egg), but this depends on external variables such as the environment (temperature and humidity for example) and the feed/substrate given to the larvae. A few days after mating, the adult females lay their eggs in small slits or cavities above a suitable feed. An egg cluster contains between 500-800 eggs and after about 3 days the eggs will hatch and the larval stage then begins. The larvae will feed and can double or even triple their weight each day in this lifecycle stage. The fast growth of the larvae suppresses the development of other insects that enjoy the same substrate. After about 2 weeks the first prepupae will appear and in this stage their colour darkens, they stop feeding and they look for a quiet, dark place to pupate. The pupae then eclose into flies and the cycle starts all over again!
The Advantages Of Insects As An Alternative Protein Source
There are many benefits of using insects as an alternative protein source such as the high efficiency in the rapid conversion of organic waste into ‘valorised’ biomass. Insects as a feed source is also already a natural component of the diets of birds and carnivorous fish. Other advantages of insect protein are that it can offer a higher digestibility than vegetable-based proteins and the land use requirements are vastly lower compared to crop sourced protein such as soy (source Fera Science Ltd).
Benefits Of Using Insects Such As The BSF As Animal Feed
Insect protein for the animal and aqua feed sectors can be used by existing feed manufacturers as an ingredient. This ingredient can be an alternative to soya and fishmeal. Adopting insects as feed plays a role in cultivating a circular approach in food production, while vastly improving the sustainability and self-sufficiency of the European livestock sector.
There are an array of benefits to animals such as poultry, fish and pets, for example;⠀⠀
- Poultry such as chickens are insectivorous and since live larvae are the most natural feed for hens, adding them into their diets offers many benefits; an overall improvement in the chickens’ health and welfare, such as better feather coverage and improved gut health.
- Aquaculture such as salmon -The Black Soldier Fly helps reduce the amount of wild fish used in feed as there is not enough to meet the growing demand for fish meal needed to sustain aquaculture systems that support food production. The BSF offers an alternative protein ingredient solution allowing for increased aquaculture production and in turn feeding more people.
- Pets such as adult dogs – the BSF can be palatable, nutritious and sustainable as an ingredient in pet food. Pets benefit from the rich amino acid make up and high lauric acid content which is also suitable for hypoallergenic breeds.
Beta Bugs also welcome the recent news from the European Union which authorises the use of processed animal proteins from insects as feed for poultry and pig feed in the Official Journal of the European Union of the Commission Regulation (EU) 2021. This authorisation follows the approval of processed animal proteins from insects (insect PAPs) in aquaculture feed from July 2017 and will open two of the most relevant EU animal feed markets, which represent circa 65% of the EU compound feed production. Following the force of entry of this implementing regulation, the demand for insects as feed is expected to grow, leading to an increase in the production capacity of the sector (IPIFF).
At Beta Bugs, we have created Just-Fly™, which is available in the form of BSF eggs through our dedicated multiplication and egg production centre – The Multiplier™. Multiplication is a key part of all genetics sectors and ensures we can supply our industry with the scale it requires. Just-Fly™ is our first product, reared to the same high zootechnical standards as our flagship product, HiPer-Fly®, but not put through our breeding programme. It provides market entrants with the opportunity to fast track towards creating profitable and scalable impact whilst developing an understanding of Black Soldier Fly husbandry and stockhumanship, establishing key processes to rear it. It also caters to operators who are simply looking up-scale production rapidly or avoid running a fly rearing operation whilst becoming familiar with working with a genetics partner that is dedicated to enabling their operation.
Our flexible batch sizes and pricing enables operators to conduct the R&D, piloting and production that they need and when they need it, so that they can then bring larger facilities online. This also streamlines operations as focussing on larval rearing simplifies the rearing operation significantly. It means that the entire facility footprint can be dedicated to the step that generates revenue – protein production and processing.
What Are The Benefits Of Our Just-Fly™ Eggs?
As a leading insect genetics company, our knowledge and expertise in this area means that customers are able to buy a consistent and high-quality product from us. By working with us, you are able to access frequent and regular egg shipments which provides stability of production. Simultaneously, using our eggs means that you can dedicate all your production space towards farming the larvae, maximizing revenue generation, whilst minimizing equipment needs, simplifying the overall process.
We’re focussed on quality – each delivery of eggs comes in a temperature regulated box to ensure eggs arrive intact with a very high hatch rate. We’re dedicated to seeing our industry take flight so offer a premium service plus additional aftercare advice for each of our customers.
If the thought of insect farming has you intrigued and you would like to learn more about rearing Just-Fly™, get in touch so that you can join our ever growing industry and contribute towards a greener, zero waste planet!