All about insects

Questions and answers about insects in the food and feed industry

1. Which role do proteins play in nutrition?
Proteins are elementary constituents needed for the growth and renewal of living human and animal cells. They are continuously being formed inside the body and broken down again. In order to maintain this cycle, about 15% of the daily energy intake should be covered by proteins. For feeding the world’s population, agriculture produces 525 million tonnes of vegetable proteins every year, which are for example contained in corn (maize), rice, wheat, or soya.

2. Why is the protein system not sustainable?
People in the industrialized countries cover as much as 70% of their protein requirement from animal sources. The land, water, and energy resources required to feed and rear livestock such as cattle, pigs, poultry, or fish are immense. Today, two thirds of all vegetable proteins – and even 80% of the global soybean harvest – are processed into animal feed. For the cultivation of soy, rain forests are often cut down, for example in Brazil. On the other hand, fishmeal used in aquaculture is made from wild fish. This exacerbates the problem of overfishing. The bottom line is that animal protein production is not very efficient: cattle, for example, need nine kilograms of feed to build just one kilogram of body weight.

3. Why are we facing a protein gap?
By the year 2050, nine billion people are expected to live on our planet. If we were all to become vegans, we could provide food for 18 billion people with the protein volume produced today. But the opposite is true: as emerging countries prosper, meat consumption is set to rise by 50% by the year 2050. Calculations from Bühler show that we will need an additional 265 million tonnes of protein each year to feed the world’s population. This looming protein gap could partially be offset by eliminating losses in the food value chain and by increasing the use of vegetable proteins for feeding humanity. However, this will not be enough. This is why the research community and industry are increasingly focusing their attention on alternative protein sources such as pulses, algae, and insects.

4. Which advantages do insects offer?
Insects such as fly larvae or mealworms are relatively easy to breed and rear. Some species such as the larvae of the Black Soldier Fly can even be fed with organic waste products such as farming or food waste. And they are remarkably efficient in transforming feed into protein: insects require only two kilograms of feed to product one kilogram of mass. Another benefit is their low space requirement: on a single square meter, insects are capable of producing one kilogram of protein. The yield could be further increased with vertical farming concepts. Besides that, excrements from the insects can be used as a fertilizer in farming.

5. What are likely applications for insects?
Whereas insects are consumed also by humans, for instance in Asia, it is as yet uncertain as to whether Western consumers will accept insect-based food products. Therefore, the focus for the time being is on processing them into feeds for animals. Because insect meal is similar to fishmeal as a source of protein, one promising application is in aquaculture to help relieve the pressure on natural fish populations. In addition to a high quality protein, insects also contain a fat which is similar to palm kernel oil and can be used for various purposes.

6. Why are Protix and Bühler joining forces?
Insects supply high quality protein, which can be generated with a small ecological footprint. This is why they attracted considerable attention from start-ups as well as established players in the food industry in recent years. Protix was founded 2009 in the Netherlands and has developed proprietary equipment and processes for producing the highest insect-based ingredients. But also Bühler has been on the topic since 2009, installing a pilot facility in China to process fly larvae and mealworms. However, the large scale processing of insects is still largely uncharted territory. In order to boost this young industry and scale the technology up to the requirements of large, industrial producers and processors, Bühler and Protix founded the joint venture Bühler Insect Technology.

7. What does Protix bring into the joint venture?
Protix is the most advanced company in the area of rearing and processing of insects. The innovative company has demonstrated industrial-scale production in a way that is scalble and multipliable. In just a few years, the highly skilled team gained extensive operational expertise in the the breeding and rearing cycle, and also developed processes for separating and extracting proteins and lipids from insects.

8. Which role will Bühler play?
Protix has proven how to create a market in insect protein. But in order to reach the next level, the company now needs a partner who understands the specific requirements of large, industrial processors. Bühler looks back on more than 150 years of experience in developing scalable, cost efffective, and hygienic plants and processes for food and feed products. The Swiss technology company is also the recognized market leader in milling, which is one of the key steps for extracting protein from insects. What’s more, Bühler has a strong established business providing technologies for animal feed. Bühler not only masters the necessary process technologies, but can also provide global access to this market.

9. What are the goals of Bühler Insect Technology?
The joint venture will develop industrial scale solutions for feedstock processing, larvae rearing and larvae processing, and to produce high-quality insect ingredients – covering the whole value chain from rearing to separation and extraction of proteins and lipids. Initially, the focus will be on larvae of the Black Soldier Fly, nicknamed the „Queen of waste transformation“ for its impressive ability to transform organic waste products into high quality protein. Subsequently, there will be a diversification to other insects like mealworms. Insect proteins hold great potential in markets like aquaculture as well as feed and food: by 2050, insects could account for 15% of global protein production.

10. Why was the joint venture founded in China?
Both partners decided to establish Bühler Insect Technology Solutions in China. One reason for this is that the use of insects for feeding animals has a longstanding tradition in China. Acceptance of insects as feed for fish or poultry is very high. And because insects are consumed by humans in parts of Asia, the barriers in terms of consumer acceptance for insect-based food products are also much lower than in other parts of the world. Another aspect is that in many countries, animal proteins are banned from being used in livestock feeds since the BSE crisis and the legal framework for the use of insect-based feed has yet to be created. China offers more favorable regulations for insect processing. Last but not least, the Chinese market is large enough to quickly reach a breakthrough in the industrial production of insects.