Insect meal as a tool for reducing the environmental impact of livestock production

Similar to livestock production, the top two impact hotspots in BSF production are energy and feed, indicating that using a clean energy mix, and making efficiencies and optimising feed formulae for the BSF will make the biggest saving in emissions, which can then be passed on to feed manufacturers and animal producers.

Nick Piggott
Co-CEO and Co-Founder
Nutrition Technologies

It is well reported that livestock production, especially ruminants, has a significant negative impact on the environment, both locally and globally. It is also well noted that as the forecasted population and demographic changes materialise, the global population will consume more, not less meat. The implications this has for both local environments around livestock farms (through land usage change, water eutrophication, etc) and the global environment (Global Warming Potential, water acidification, etc) are massive. 80% of global land use is attributed to livestock (mostly through the production of feedstock), which in turn causes land degradation, biodiversity loss, and air quality deterioration, making the search for less impactful sources of feed increasingly urgent.

In parallel to the growth of the livestock industry, the science behind measuring environmental impact through Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) has become more reliable, and the ability to report on environmental impact is fast approaching the demand for increased transparency in the food supply chain. Global databases like The Environmental Footprint (EF) database from SimaPro, and standardised methodologies such as the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) developed by the European Commission over the last decade have made it infinitely easier to compare and contrast products. This in turn, has enabled businesses around the world to identify both their key categories of concern (GHG emissions, land usage change, water usage, etc), as well as their ’hotspots’ – where the bulk of their own impact is coming from. These two data points facilitate a clearer understanding of the impact being made, and the prioritisation of the inputs or processes to make the biggest reductions therein.

At a very high level, academic studies into livestock production conclude two things; that feed is one of the major contributors to climate impact, and that the protein source is the biggest contributor within the feed.

With this in mind, livestock feed producers can make a number of simple adjustments to reduce their own environmental impact by focusing on the key impact areas of; energy, and protein in feed. Solar power is already becoming commonplace in industrial and agricultural production systems, reducing the energy input requirement, thus reducing the use of grid energy. This is particularly significant in parts of the world where little of the energy mix is renewable, and so can make an outsized difference by replacing grid with solar.

The other major opportunity is to use feeds with low-impact protein ingredients, such as insect meal. Insect meal, and particularly BSF meal, has been identified as a high potential replacement for fishmeal to reduce ocean impacts, and soybean meal to reduce deforestation and biodiversity loss, but little has been discussed around the GHG-reduction opportunity presented by insect meal (and oil). In 2023 Nutrition Technologies conducted a LifeCycle Assessment (LCA) following the European Commission’s cradle-to-gate Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology, to identify the various impacts that result from farming BSF for animal feed in Malaysia.
Similar to livestock production, the top two impact hotspots in BSF production are energy and feed, indicating that using a clean energy mix, and making efficiencies and optimising feed formulae for the BSF will make the biggest saving in emissions, which can then be passed on to feed manufacturers and animal producers.

Looking more closely at our own production hotspots and comparing them to publicly available information from other BSF producers around the world, we can see that the lower environmental impact of our BSF meal is possible for three major reasons; the use of a low-energy tropical production system, the use of low-grade raw materials used to feed the BSF larvae, and implementing a fermentation step to release more nutrition from the raw materials.

One of the major implications of comparing LCAs from different producers, is to understand that different production systems can have vastly different environmental impacts, and that different insect meals aren’t necessarily interchangeable when it comes to sustainability metrics. A BSF producer operating in cold winter climates must heat, light and humidify huge volumes of warehouse air, demanding significant energy inputs, which can have a massive impact on Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. Similarly, feeding insects with corn, wheat and barley byproducts (which themselves could otherwise be used as a direct animal feed) have massive environmental footprints, which impacts the ‘real’ sustainability of the resulting insect meal.

While sustainability is a growing issue around the world and climate-aware consumers are asking more demanding questions about supply-chain transparency, reducing environmental impacts is still not a priority for many producers, particularly during periods of market volatility, outbreaks of disease (eg ASF), and other more immediately pressing issues exist. However, there is a vast and rapidly growing body of evidence that proves that not only does a tropically-produced insect-based feed reduce the environmental impact associated with livestock production, it also improves the feed uptake & feed efficiency, can increase resistance to common pathogens thereby reducing the usage of antibiotics, and reduce the overall costs of livestock production. Insect meal is a complex ingredient with multiple value propositions spanning nutritional, environmental and functional, and it is for these reasons that formulators and farm operators should look at the ingredient through a multifaceted, holistic lens.

About Nick Piggott
Nick Piggott is a co-founder and Co-CEO of Nutrition Technologies, an industrial insect manufacturer based in South East Asia. With a background in Life Sciences, Piggott was exposed to the challenges of food security whilst working for the UN in West Africa, and the company has since developed insect-based feed-ingredients for the livestock and aquaculture industries to address this issue. Piggott is the industry-side face of Nutrition Technologies, overseeing the product, regulatory, & client side of the business, ensuring that the organization maintains constant awareness of the competitive & regulatory landscape, market trends, technology developments and industry standards.