The little beast that goes up… On April 13, the French start-up Ynsect bought out its Dutch competitor Protifarm. His business? The breeding of beetles. To feed pets or farmed fish, and now for humans, thanks to its new acquisition.
An alternative source of protein
Launched ten years ago, the insect breeding industry is taking off. According to a study by the Dutch bank Rabobank, it attracted more than 300 million euros of investments in Europe last year.
→ LARGE FORMAT. Soon insects on our plates
Its goal: to find alternatives to feed a growing world population with a contained environmental impact. Insects are very rich in protein and their breeding pollutes little, unlike meat or soybeans, which the food industry has traditionally used. But there are still obstacles before we see the little animals massively feed farm animals… or land on our plates.
The industrialization of production is already a victory
Domesticating an insect is a complex process. “We created a vertical farm 35 meters high near Amiens with automated feeding, details Antoine Hubert, the boss of Ynsect. It is precision agriculture. Insects do not have a temperature control system. It took time, but we are now able to grow very large volumes in a stable and qualitative way! “
However, not all the problems are solved. “When you have millions of genetically related individuals in a space without isolation, a disease spreads very quickly. It is very common in insects ”, explains Frédéric Marion-Poll, professor of entomology (the study of insects) at AgroParisTech.
Competitiveness to demonstrate
Manufacturers are already producing tons of insects for pets or fish farms. Their selling point? Nutritional and ecological virtues. “It is still too early to be sure that this has a major effect on the development of fish., believes Fédéric Marion-Poll. On the other hand, we are sure that these proteins damage the environment much less than if they are fed with fishmeal, which is often the result of overfishing. “
“True sustainability is financial, tempers Patricia Le Cadre, director of the animal feed division at AgroParisTech. And insect meal is still too expensive compared to fish meal, which is itself very expensive.s. ” Rabobank analysts have, however, calculated that the maturity of the sector should allow, by 2030, to reduce costs by around 50%.
For cattle, pigs or poultry, insect-based feeding has been prohibited since 2001. “After the mad cow, Europe banned feeding farm animals with animal protein … and insects were considered animals”, explains Christophe Derrien, who defends the interests of the sector in Brussels.
→ READ. Insect decline is greater than expected
However, the restrictions for fish were jumped in 2017, pigs and poultry could follow in the coming months. Insects will then be in competition with products such as soybeans which, despite their environmental impact, provide protein to livestock at a much lower cost.
Another downside, “Even in 2030, the volumes will be too small, Patricia Le Cadre analysis. Globally, insects should not provide more than 1% of the protein provided by soybeans. “
Nestled on our plates?
So failing to feed the cattle, companies are developing products for humans. After years of legal uncertainty, the practice has been expressly authorized since a European regulation entered into force in 2018. Products are often processed to neutralize the taste and appearance of insects and focus on their nutritional values.
Because we will have to wait a little longer before seeing whole crickets on our plates. The little beasts “Arouse fear or disgust, notes an April 2019 report from Cgaaer, the general council for food, agriculture and rural areas. (…) Massive incorporation into ready-made meals currently seems difficult to envisage. This type of food is now reserved for niche markets. “