Tyson, a major US producer of beef, pork and chicken, is betting on protein from insects.
The meat processor said Tuesday it has invested in Netherlands-based insecticide maker Protix. Not only does Tyson pick up on the minority sentiment in the company, but he also works with him to build a factory in the United States. That facility will use animal waste to feed black soldier flies, which will then become feed for pets, poultry and fish. Tyson did not disclose the financial details of the deal.
These flies do not enter human food at this time. “Today we are focused on more things [an] Application of the ingredient with insect protein is more than our consumer application,” said John R. Tyson, chief financial officer of Tyson Foods.
Long regarded as a sustainable food source, insect protein has not caught on in the mainstream. However, in recent years there has been a growing interest in insects as an ingredient for animal feed.
Rabobank’s 2021 report notes that “demand for insect protein, mainly as an animal feed and pet food ingredient, could reach half a million metric tons by 2030, compared to about 10,000 metric tons in today’s market.” That same year, Mars launched a line of insect-based cat food called LoveBug.
Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson doesn’t make pet food, but it sells animal feed and animal by-products for use in the fish-feeding aquaculture market, the CFO said. By-products such as animal fats, hides and inedible proteins can end up in landfills if not used or reduced. In that case, Tyson can send the stomach contents of the cattle it processes to the Protix facility, where it is fed insects. For a company, creating a larger market for this type of waste can not only reduce waste but also offer a larger revenue stream.
“Part of being in the animal protein business is figuring out how to get value out of waste,” Tyson said. “We saw it as an extension of our existing business,” he said of the partnership with Protix, adding that the insect ingredients market “has some really attractive growth characteristics that will accelerate Tyson.”
Christine Johanna Picard, a biology professor at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Science, said the market for insect repellants “is growing exponentially, in my opinion.” Picard helped establish the Center for Environmental Sustainability through Insect Farming, a partnership between members of academia and industry, including Tyson and Protix.
“More and more startups are coming into the space because there is so much demand for insect protein,” he said.
The partnership with Tyson will help expand Protix’s scale, said Kees Aarts, the company’s CEO. “We really need these partnerships to bring solutions like ours to the global stage,” he said.
The meat industry puts a huge burden on the planet, in part because of the land, water and energy it takes to grow the crops that feed the animals we eat. Some experts say that reducing the environmental impact of animal feed can help make the system more sustainable.
Making food from insects is one way to do this: Insects take up less space and make do with waste that would otherwise be thrown away.
The black soldier fly “can grow on almost any type of food waste and by-product you can imagine,” Aarts said.
Reza Ovissipour, assistant professor of sustainable food systems in Texas A&M University’s department of food science and technology, said managing this waste is a big part of how insects can help ease the burden on livestock and other animals on the planet.
Flies eat the waste of various kinds of animals and turn it into “a special product, which will be protein or oil from insects.” “Once you deal with this specific protein and fat, you can easily design your animal diet.”
When insects eat animal waste, they essentially serve as “mini bioreactors.” “And these mini bioreactors are very cheap,” he said. “There is no need to spend so much energy. It’s very durable.”