Score one for the planet: Turning bugs into feed for animals

 
 Insect-based startup Beta Hatch's goal is to replace the soy usually grown for animal feed with a more sustainable alternative: insect protein. Photo from  Beta Hatch

Insect-based startup Beta Hatch's goal is to replace the soy usually grown for animal feed with a more sustainable alternative: insect protein. Photo from Beta Hatch

Environmentalists and insectivores have been pushing the edible insect trend for years now, with only moderate success. Insect-based food startups like Chirps Chips (tortilla chips made with cricket flour) and restaurants willing to incorporate bugs into their menus, like the ant-infused salt rimming the glasses of cocktails at The Black Ant in New York City, pop up regularly. However, bug-based companies are typically seen as novelties, making it difficult for them to appeal to a wide audience. The truth is that the majority of the population just isn’t willing to incorporate insects into their daily diets. That’s where Beta Hatch comes in.

grain-fed livestock farming is unsustainable 

Rather than struggling to convince people that bugs are a delicious and sustainable alternative to meat, these insect entrepreneurs turn their bugs into feed for animals. “We don’t have to convince birds and fish that insects are delicious,” Beta Hatch founder Virginia Emery explains, “We love the edible insect space, but ultimately there are many millions to be made in insects as food. There are billions to be made in insects as feed.”

The startup’s goal is to replace the soy usually grown for animal feed with insect protein from the mealworms bred on the Beta Hatch urban farm in Seattle. The massive amount of grain cultivated specifically to feed livestock is a leading factor in the meat industry’s contribution to climate pollution. It’s well recognized that “grain-fed livestock farming is a costly and non-sustainable way to produce animal protein,” says David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell University.

edible insects save on water, space, and emissions

Grains grown for the sole purpose of being turned into feed for our meat take up 30 million hectares of farmland and constitute five times the amount consumed by the entire population of the United States. The cultivation of these grains also uses a tremendous amount of water and greatly accelerates soil erosion. Replacing soy-based livestock feed with insect protein offers a sustainable solution. The process requires comparably miniscule amounts of water and space, with one acre of farmed mealworms producing as much protein in one year as 5,000 acres of soy, and with no negative impact on soil.

 Insects can be used for more than just feed. They also produce fertilizer. Photo from  Beta Hatch

Insects can be used for more than just feed. They also produce fertilizer. Photo from Beta Hatch

The mealworms have the added bonus of acting as bio-recyclers, able to convert spent grain leftovers from breweries into high-quality protein. Additionally, the frass, the name for waste emitted by the bugs, can be used as fertilizer. Beta Hatch is even looking into ways that an insect's exoskeleton can be used for bioplastics or pharmaceuticals. “The market is asking for this solution,” says Mike Wilbur, corporate vice president of business development at Wilbur-Ellis. Beta Hatch is finding innovative ways to deliver on it. 

Takeaway: You don’t have to become an insectivore or cut meat out of your diet altogether to make a difference. Companies like Beta Hatch are making sustainable meat production possible. Simply cutting back on your animal protein intake and thinking about how the meat you do eat is produced can have a huge impact!