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Bugs as Food: the Business- Ethical- and Sustainability- Case

Published Date: 11 July 2013

By Kathryn Redford, Founder of Ofbug

Ofbug farms organic insects as a sustainable, affordable protein component in poultry feed. Protein content in commercial feed usually comes from soy or fish meal. An insect based feed provides a complete and natural diet for poultry without harmful effects on our environment and fresh water resources. Organic and free-range poultry farmers are concerned with providing a high quality, environmentally sound product. These farmers represent Ofbug’s primary customers. Insects can be produced at scale humanely and cheaply in order to present an affordable product that appeals to the ethics of our customers.

In spring 2013, with the cooperation of Wooly Pig Farm, Ofbug conducted trials providing the protein content for a flock of free-range chickens. Ofbug also gained Yale Farm as a customer in the same year. Ofbug has gained media coverage in the U.S. including an article in The New Journal, and articles in New Haven Living Magazine, the Hartford Courant and New Haven Business. Ofbug founder, Kathryn Redford, was also a guest on WNPR’s Colin McEnroe Show (March 18th). The Company is targeting the North American organic feed market, beginning with poultry feed, and then moving to swine and cattle feed. Ofbug was founded in 2012 and is headquartered in Vancouver, BC.   The Problem with Soy and Fish Meal

As the world’s population approaches 9 billion, there is an urgent demand for sustainable food sources worldwide. Conversely, food supply is reduced through competition for resources used for both for human and animal consumption. According to the USDA, processed soybeans are the world’s largest source of animal protein feed, and in 2011 48% of soybean meal used in feed was consumed by poultry. The demand for protein and lipids for poultry diets has increased -while the supply of soymeal and marine fishmeal has not- contributing to wild price fluctuations.

Feed based on soy and fish meal currently dominate the $81 billion North American livestock feed market. Livestock and poultry feed is made up of several components to provide a complete diet for the animal. Feed is bought premixed in bags or from a feed mill which mixes grains and protein meal to certain specifications. The proportions change depending on the type of animal, the age, and the purpose. For example, chicken feed contains varying levels of protein based on age of the flock, and whether they are raised for meat (broilers) or for eggs (layers). The protein meal is typically of soy or fish origin, both of which are environmentally intensive, and expensive to produce. These also do not occur naturally in poultry diets. Soy actually threatens the health of poultry in its unaltered/unprocessed form.

Feed represents 60-70% of production costs of meat. For organic farmers required to use organic feed, the cost is higher. Last year, nearly 70% of the world’s protein meal was made using costly, highly processed soybeans. As the largest producer, the United States produces 33% of the world’s soybeans. The use of insect protein in livestock feed can relieve the pressure on valuable resources such as soy crops. If the demand for crops required to raise livestock and poultry is hindered, less land can be developed for crop use. In developing countries for example, land deforested for soy production is usually intended for feed. Crop production in these regions is intensifying, and is the main cause for nutrient depletion in soil. Outsourcing crop production at this scale does not allow for economically vulnerable countries to create local and sustainable agricultural systems.

The majority of soy are genetically modified to cope with weather, and are also treated with pesticides. We are dissatisfied with the lack of longitudinal studies involving genetically modified products. Pesticides have not only been proven as a cause for concern to human health, but just as dangerous are the effects on bee populations and soil contamination.

Many fish species are exploited solely for the purpose of producing industrial fish meal. This practice usually targets small, high oil species including mackerel, sardines and anchovies. It takes four to five metric tons of these fish to manufacture one metric ton of fish meal. Overfishing contributes to marine ecosystem instability, and a rising demand for fish meal further complicates related issues.

Environmental and Nutritional Benefits

Ofbug feed is high in essential amino-acids, iron, calcium and chitin. As result, Ofbug product can potentially replace more than just commercial protein meal. Ofbug is made with whole, dried, organic insects which do not require synthetic preservatives. Eggs and meat produced by poultry that are fed insect protein contain higher levels of iron and omega-3 fatty acids than those produced by poultry fed on fish or soy products. Insect protein is humanely produced with minimal requirements: Ofbug raises insects using a fraction of the space, time, and water required by current protein sources. Insects grown indoors do not require pesticides or genetic alterations. Their success is not weather-dependent. Insects can live off nearly any organic waste, converting low value ingredients into a commodity. Insects could for example, live on community compost (organic side-streams) to close the “loop”, producing rich top soil for use on gardens or agricultural land. This could encourage communities to compost, potentially at a city-wide level, to reduce the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills.

Ofbug aims to promote community agriculture, the use of organic products, and to reduce the environmental impact of meat consumption. We help farmers make healthier, tastier products by providing a more natural, affordable, and sustainable protein alternative for feed. Using insects in feed is a simple, sustainable, concrete foundation on which to build a more sustainable future.

For more on OfBug, visit their webiste here: