Will insects be the new ingredient in your animal feed?
The demand to increase food production for a growing population, coupled with the need to reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture, is driving the search for new sources of protein for animal feed. Innovafeed believes the black soldier fly meets the requirements for a low-cost, nutritious, and eco-friendly alternative.
Founded in 2016, the Paris-based company raises black soldier fly larvae with vertical farming technologies to produce natural, high-performing, and sustainable nutrients for animal feed.
“The ultimate challenge we’re trying to tackle is feeding a growing population a healthy, nutritious, and affordable diet. We must figure out how to do that within the constraints of our planet on a large scale,” says Maye Walraven, business development director at Innovafeed, during the Achieving Sustainable, Nutritious, and Affordable Diets for Animals session at the 2022 Animal AgTech Innovation Summit. “For every 1 acre of vertical insect farming you would need 100 acres of arable land to produce the same amount of protein with soybeans. We are rethinking how we optimize the resources we already have.”
Chosen for its valuable nutritional properties and scalability, the black soldier fly also has a rapid life cycle that includes four stages – egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Once it becomes an adult, the insect has a life span of five to eight days. In that time, the black soldier fly can lay 200 to 700 eggs that need four days to hatch. When it reaches the larva stage – which is when the insect is high in moisture, protein, and fat – the protein and oil are extracted for use in animal feed.
“Black soldier flies are super upcyclers,” Walraven says. “They can use biomass that’s readily available around the world and transform it into high-quality ingredients. All the parts of the insect can be used. We not only extract protein and oil but the dejections as well, which are used for fertilizer. It’s a zero-waste process.”
Currently, Innovafeed operates two insect production facilities in France that produce 1 metric ton of insect protein, 4 metric tons of fertilizer, and 300 kilos of insect oil. Following five years of growth and strategic partnerships with global animal feed companies like Cargill, Innovafeed is expanding into the U.S.
Using an innovative model of industrial collaboration already demonstrated in its other facilities, Innovafeed is building the world’s largest insect farm in Decatur, Illinois, next to ADM’s corn processing plant. Biomass from the plant will be used to feed insects, as well as provide waste heat and steam. Compared with traditional production models, the new facility will reduce CO2 emissions by 80%.
Construction and production of the insect farm will come in two phases. When both are complete (slated for 2024), the facility will have a target annual capacity of 60,000 metric tons of animal feed protein and 20,000 metric tons of oils for poultry and swine rations. It will also produce 400,000 metric tons of fertilizer.
“Restoring the black soldier fly to its natural role in animal feed on a large scale is a goal the company’s three cofounders have had from the beginning. Their mission is to create a more sustainable food system for tomorrow’s world,” says Caroline Sasia, head of communications at Innovafeed, adding that the company also plans to open a research and development center at the Illinois site later this year.
Innovafeed will sell the two ingredients it produces – protein powder and an oil – to buyers who will use them to manufacture fish food, pet food, and animal food. Insect oil is rich in lauric acid, a fatty acid that helps improve the intestinal health of animals, especially piglets.
The feed ingredient was evaluated in numerous feed trials through the company’s partnership with Cargill, which began with exploring novel feed options for aquaculture and expanded into other species. The research found that the nutritional profile of insect oils, compared with other oil sources like vegetable oil, fits well with a pig’s dietary requirements and has no negative effect on performance. The collaboration could benefit more than 20 million piglets’ diets by 2026.
Barriers to Adoption
Like any start-up, Innovafeed knows there are numerous barriers when it comes to bringing an innovation to market. While the regulatory environment for insect protein may still be in its infancy, it is quickly maturing.
“We often think of regulation as being a barrier to a new industry coming to market and taking more time than we want it to,” Walraven says. “In Europe, it’s been quite the opposite for us. In 2021, the EU authorized the use of insects in pig and poultry feed, which created a framework for us to grow into. A regulation can become a way to make your country more competitive and can boost and facilitate innovation.”
That same year, the U.S. approved the use of black soldier flies in dog food.
“The ultimate barrier is being able to articulate your value proposition, so that your solution is competitive compared with conventional technology. At Innovafeed, we believe we are producing sustainable alternative ingredients, but first and foremost, we’re producing a competitive ingredient,” she says. “If you want to make an innovation competitive, you need to roll it out at scale and that’s why we have a very ambitious deployment plan.”
Innovafeed plans to open 10 more insect production facilities by 2030.