Making meals from mealworms is "part of the answer" to the climate crisis, the CEO of Ynsect sayshttps://t.co/CVqtRlSiKK
— TIME (@TIME) September 28, 2021
BY EBEN SHAPIRO
Global food production accounts for one-third of all greenhouse-gas emissions, according to a comprehensive study published this year in the journal Nature Food that looked at every aspect of food production from transportation to packaging. Meat production alone makes up nearly 60% of that total.
The study underscores the growing consensus that in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, the world needs a dramatic rethinking of how food is produced and consumed. Especially since the U.N. estimates that food production will have to increase by 70% by 2050 to feed the world’s growing population.
Increasingly, companies and scientists are viewing insects as an environmentally sustainable alternative source of protein. Crickets, grasshoppers and beetles are already commercially produced and processed for human and animal consumption. Ynsect, a 10-year-old French company, is focused on mealworms, the larval stage of beetles.
One big advantage of mealworms, aside from their neutral taste and high degree of digestibility, is that they don’t fly or jump, which means it requires a lot less space to grow and process them compared with more mobile insects. One of Europe’s best-funded insect-farming companies (it has raised over $400 million), Ynsect currently has one highly automated vertical farm in France and plans to open a far larger production facility in the country next year. The company is also scouting locations for a major facility in the U.S. and plans to announce a Midwest location before the end of the year. It eventually plans to have farms across the world.
Ynsect’s powdered protein is currently used in pet food, fish meal for commercial fish farms and other animal feed. It’s in limited consumer products in parts of Europe, including as an ingredient in burger patties and pasta. It will soon enter the sports-drink and protein-bar markets.
Ynsect co-founder and CEO Antoine Hubert recently joined TIME for a video conversation on how the cultivation of insects can help mitigate the impacts of climate change and take pressure off threats to the earth’s biodiversity.
(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
Was it always the humble mealworm?
When we started the company, we tested several species, from beetles to flies to crickets, locusts and others. Finally, we ended up with mealworms.
We worked with a small farmer who had 20 years experience in small-scale insect farming, and it was his opinion that it was the best. We also found that mealworms were super-good for great big vertical farms and able to deliver large volumes that are required for animal feed, pet food or human food—thousands of tons, not a few kilos per day.
Why is developing an alternative protein source with a smaller carbon footprint so essential, and what role is your company playing across the food chain?
The two main issues the earth is facing today are climate change and biodiversity collapse. We are not far from reaching tipping points where then things get worse and it cascades and waterfalls—you can’t stop it anymore. Time is very critical.
There is a huge need to reduce our consumption of beef. We should keep beef consumption, grazing, on a smaller scale with high levels of fresh products. But everything that is a processed meat should be 100% replaced at some point by alternatives. Insects will be a part of the answer.
Another way is to move from existing meat to other meats with no methane emissions: chicken and fish. We help to change the way we feed chicken and fish. And our leftover insect manure is a great organic fertilizer that can fully replace chemical fertilizers.
And mealworms have a fairly neutral taste?
We have different products, but the main one is pretty neutral. We also have a very light color, which is exactly what companies are looking at.
They don’t want a very strong taste when they do burgers or energy bars or energy drinks. Otherwise you will end up with a highly smelly product, which is something that is not desirable for consumers, which is often what small-scale crickets companies are doing … big smell and big taste, which makes it very difficult to use the product in final food products. Our process helps us to avoid smells.