World population is growing and will continue to grow for most of this century. At the same time, an increasingly affluent population is able to consume larger quantities of meat in their diets. This puts pressure on scarce world food resources. Animals eat large quantities of cereal grains, which can also be consumed directly by people. However, animals are relatively inefficient converters of grains into salable meat. The feed conversion rate varies by type of animal; ranging from 1.5 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of fish, up to 6 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of beef cattle. Since the entire animal is not usable for human food, the final dressed weights are often only a quarter of the animal’s total weight.
The focus of this IPRO project is to investigate the production of high-quality protein for animal feed that does not consume valuable food humans could use directly. The IPRO team will consider the possibility described further below of creating animal protein sources from insects.
Generally speaking, animal feeds are composed of carbohydrates (corn, wheat) and proteins (soybeans). While the protein portion of the feeds comprises only 33-40% of the feed, it is usually the most expensive part of the feed. Since most of the protein is provided by soybeans any that is utilized in animal feed takes away from the supply that humans can eat directly. This causes price increases for soybeans and reduces the supplies available to starving people.
An alternative source of protein in animal feed is insects. While a soybean is only about 30 percent protein, the common German Cockroach is over 40 percent protein. The protein in insects is well-suited for fish and chicken feed, as it comprises a normal part of these animals’ natural diets. The protein in soybeans is more difficult for most animals to digest as it is not a normal part of their diets.
Soybeans require 90-150 days to mature, and need good quality soil, fertilizer and intensive management. On the other hand, cockroaches require less than 50 days to grow to adults, and can be grown on food waste. Cockroaches can also grow year round, while soybeans can only be grown once-a-year during the summer. This suggests the possibility of developing a system to commercially produce insect protein to replace soybean protein.
The IPRO team will examine different species of insects and different growing systems. Insights from this research will guide the design of a commercial insect raising system to produce high quality protein for use in animal feeds. In the course of its work, the IPRO team will apply a balanced approach to exploring the technical feasibility, user desirability and business viability of this concept.