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How Are Edible Insects Farmed? 6 Key Aspects


insect farming with mealworm on cover

You may have read it in the news, more and more insect farms are popping up around the world. Yes, insect farming is a thing! A thing of the present and future. While insects have been consumed and farmed for many years in other parts of the world, such as the African and Asian continents, this concept is quite new in the Western world.


Given the growing interest in insects as a sustainable source of food and feed, insect farms have been popping up in Europe and North America, led by a handful of pioneers who believe insects can play a role in providing safe, nutritional, and environmentally-friendly products for humans and farmed animals.


But how do these farms work? Are they indoors? Small? Large? Do they adhere to hygiene protocols?


In this article, we explain how edible insects are farmed. Our objective is to provide you with a good understanding of the processes and safety behind insect farming and explain why insect farming is so promising for the future of food security.


Let’s dive into it, enjoy your read!


What is insect farming?

Insect farming is the practice of raising insects for commercial or domestic purposes. From a commercial standpoint, it aims at producing insects for food, feed or other uses, such as fertilizer production or processing into ingredients for the food and cosmetics industries.


Where the hype comes from? Well, it has several potential advantages over traditional livestock farming.


First of all, insects have rapid growth, efficient feed conversion, and a reduced ecological footprint: they require less water and space to grow, produce fewer greenhouse gases and generate less waste.


In fact, some insect species such as the black soldier fly actually feed on waste and use it to grow. In addition, many insects are nutrient-rich and provide an alternative source of protein, fat and minerals.


mealworms being farmed

Steps in edible insect farming


In this section, we outline steps taken by producers to farm edible insects. Of course, this list of steps is non-exhaustive and varies from one company to the next. Indeed, some insect farms are (extremely) high-tech and have processes in place of which only they have the secret.


That being said, there are a handful of steps which are common to almost all insect farms. Let’s check them out below.


1. Choosing the insect species to farm


The first step in insect farming is to choose which insect species to grow. While it is estimated that over 2,000 insect species are edible, only a handful are being farmed in the Western world to this day.


Currently, the most commonly farmed insects are the black soldier fly, the yellow mealworm, the buffalo mealworm, and the domestic cricket. Reasons behind companies’ choice to farm an insect species over another differ.


For example, some companies may choose to farm yellow mealworms as they are easier to control: they don’t fly around. Other companies choose to farm the black soldier fly (BSF) as their products are destined for the aquafeed market: some fish species may require feed to which the nutritional values of the BSF can better cater.


Another reason to farm an insect species over another is only a handful of insects have been approved as safe for human consumption in Europe and North America (e.g. yellow mealworm, house cricket).


farmed crickets

2. Creating and sustaining a rearing environment


In more scientific terms, insect farming is referred to as “insect rearing”. Depending on the insect species, specific environmental conditions are needed to rear insects. In most cases, farms are set up indoors where the temperature and humidity levels can easily be controlled.


Indeed, some farmed insects, such as the black soldier fly, may need warm and humid environments to grow, whereas crickets prefer the opposite: cool temperatures and lower humidity.


In addition to controlling the temperature and humidity levels, operating insect farms indoors enables producers to prevent risks of contamination and adhere to food safety standards for edible insects.


3. Feeding the insects


Just like any other farmed living beings, insects require feed to grow, live, and reproduce. In most cases, the insects are fed grains, vegetables and fruits, and all sorts of protein-rich meals.


For other insects such as the black soldier fly it gets even more interesting: they can eat and process organic waste such as food scraps and agricultural waste such as manure. They are thus able to turn these inputs into body mass and grow at extremely fast rates. Circularity at its finest, right?


On smaller-scale farms, the feed is given to the insects manually. However, for larger insect farms (which can be up to 40,000 square meters!), the feeding of insects is optimized and automated.


insect farming


4. Managing the insect population


As the insects are farmed, some grow faster than others and some die along the way. The circle of life. Insect farmers thus have the job of managing the insect population: making sure the environment is still ideal in terms of temperature, light and humidity, preventing waste from accumulating and removing dead insects.


Just like the feeding process, managing insect populations is mostly manual on small farms and automated on larger farms.


5. Harvesting and processing of insects


The time at which insects are harvested depends on the objectives of the firm. In most cases, insect farmers harvest insects at different stages of their growth cycles. For example, yellow mealworm farmers may harvest mealworm larvae to produce fish feed ingredients. In other cases, they might wait for another larvae batch to mature and turn into beetles, have them reproduce, collect the eggs and start the cycle again.


As for the processing steps of edible insects, this depends on the final product. In some cases, the insects are frozen. After being frozen, they can be dried or cooked, kept whole or turned into powder. Other companies use shredders which instantly kill the insects and prevent them from suffering.


man sorting mealworms in Ynsect farm
Retrieved from Nature.com; Credit: Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg via Getty

6. Ensuring insect farming safety and quality


Another crucial part of insect farming is ensuring that the facilities are kept safe and hygienic. As with any other food product, insect farmers need to adhere to strict hygiene protocols to prevent the environment from getting contaminated.


The Food and Agriculture Organization has published guidelines for safe and sustainable insect production: these guidelines help insect farmers develop and enforce processes where the insects are regularly tested for pathogens and the quality of products is monitored on a regular basis.



Final thoughts


Insect farming is considered the future of agriculture. It may constitute a more sustainable alternative to the farming of cattle, poultry and swine. Indeed, insect farming requires less land, water, and feed and produces fewer greenhouse gases than traditional livestock farming.


While you may not be enthusiastic about eating insects because of the famous “yuck” factor, you can be sure of one thing: insect farming is at least as “clean” as traditional farming. The crickets you would have in your burger patty will have been grown in a controlled environment, properly cleaned and processed for safe consumption before ending up on supermarket shelves.


If you’re curious about insect products and want to try a product you’re already quite familiar with, why not go for a burger? Check out our article about three insect burgers worth trying in 2023.


Ynsect mealworms and machinery
Retrieved from Techcrunch.com; Credits: Ÿnsect



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