South African 'Fly Factory' Highlights Insects as Food: Bugs for Livestock

First Posted: May 27, 2013 11:01 AM EDT

Insects are the super food of the natural world. They're high in protein, good fats and calcium. But now, it turns out that insects aren't just good for people, they're also good for animals. A South African "fly factory" that uses larvae to convert tons of blood, guts and other farm waste into a protein-packed animal feed recently won a United Nations innovation award, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Insects are useful in societies all across the world. In fact, a new study launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization shows that insects form part of the traditional diets of at least two billion people, and at least 1900 insect species have been documented as being edible. In addition, insect gathering and farming can offer employment and cash income.

Now, it seems like insects are on the menu--at least for livestock. Chickens and fish have always eaten bugs, so it's not all that surprising that now people are finding a way to feed insects to other species. AgriProtein Technologies, which won this year's $100,000 Innovation Prize for Africa from the African Innovation Foundation and a UN economic panel, claims that its factory can turn a pound of fly eggs into 380 pounds of larvae in 72 hours--that's a lot of insects.

Insects have the potential to revolutionize the food industry. They emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases than most livestock. They're also not as land intensive and are very efficient at converting feed into protein due to the fact that they're cold blooded; crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein.

So why not use insects a bit more? Good question. Legislation in most industrialized nations actually prevents large scale insect production for food purposes. Insects usually feed on waste materials, such as slurry or swill. Yet laws prevent the actual feeding of these materials to creatures that are being used for human consumption. In addition, actually using insects in food for human consumption is also regulated and prevented in some countries.

That said, this latest innovation award highlights a new push to developing insects for the use in agriculture. Eat up. Insects can feed our livestock--and could also potentially feed us.

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