Grasshoppers and crickets: protein for salmonThe grasshoppers are fed on grocery and brewery waste, resulting in a practically climate negative product. Photo: Metapod

Based in Norway, Salmon Group and Metapod are trialling a new, locally produced feed for salmon made from grasshoppers and crickets, reports Bonnie Waycott.

Fishmeal prices have been rising, fuelled by the growth of aquaculture and the increasing demand for farmed fish. But with concerns high over aquaculture’s use of fish ingredients in feed, non-fishmeal alternatives are drawing attention for treading lightly on marine ecosystems and helping to ease the pressure on forage fish.

One company that’s focusing on such alternatives is startup Metapod. Launched in 2018, the company has developed technology to produce highly nutritious meal from grasshoppers and crickets. Now it’s engaging with Salmon Group, paving the way for a new type of salmon feed.

“Insects utilise energy in a very specific and efficient way, and I wondered how they could be used in food production as they contain a lot of protein,” said Fredrick Darien, Metapod’s founder and CEO.

“I also asked myself how I could contribute to a better world, make aquaculture better and generate food for humans. On the one side we have population growth and people needing food, while on the other we have climate change. How could I bring these together to create an alternative protein source?”

“We decided to work with Metapod to respond to the growing need for more protein and nutritious food for the entire world population,” said Nils Inge Hitland, Purchasing and Feed Manager at Salmon Group.

“We need to think differently about food production along with new raw materials and technologies that make it possible to produce healthy, nutritious food for animals and people. The way Metapod thinks of resource management is completely in line with our sustainability work in practice, and doesn’t claim resources or land that could have been used for other food production for humans or animals. In terms of a circular economy, this is the right thing to do.”

Metapod produces insect flour in a closed facility that breeds grasshoppers and crickets sourced from a professional breeder in Germany. The insects are bred so that they’re less prone to pathogens and disease, while local production means short transport distances to the feed factories. As well as a stock colony and biobank, there is a research facility and post-processing facility for product refinement. Having built its technology from scratch, Metapod has full control over the composition of the insects’ food and all aspects of production until delivery. This allows it to control the insects’ nutritional profile and ensure a safe, nutritious food source.

The insects are fed with food leftovers from grocery stores and brewery production, components that would otherwise end up as waste. This contributes to the circular economy along with a reduction in carbon footprint.

“We use as many sources of waste as possible to produce a novel product, and in that way we’re almost able to produce a climate negative result. Essentially we’re absorbing more than we’re producing,” Fredrick Darien said.

“Local production means that this product demands minimal transportation to the fish farms, and using all byproducts helps aquaculture in reducing waste. We make use of waste but we don’t produce it,” added Åsta Dale, biologist at Metapod.

In 2018, Salmon Group published a feasibility study, which showed that feed is the biggest carbon footprint contributor during salmon production. As a result, the company reduced its carbon footprint of feed by 36% and is taking further steps by incorporating Metapod’s insect meal.

“Their production has no footprint other than production itself as the food waste that the grasshoppers and crickets feed on would otherwise have been burnt,” Nils Inge Hitland said.

“Here it’s brought back into the value chain. Also, bycatch for fishmeal production burdens the ocean ecosystem. If the demand for fishmeal is reduced, there will be more selective fishing and better resource management.”

The mix of grasshopper flour to be used by Salmon Group will vary with the protein requirements of the different fish sizes throughout growth. Right now, Salmon Group is planning to use 10% of Metapod’s feed as an ingredient in its salmon’s diet. With insects a natural part of the diet of wild salmon in freshwater, feeding them to farmed fish is a result of the company’s continuous work to offer the best possible feed recipe at all times. It also has its own SG-recipe, which gives full control of feed production parameters, while ingredients can be continuously adjusted to balance fish health, environmental impact of production and the end product.

“Consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and how it’s produced,” said Maria Schütz Fløisand, chief communications officer at Salmon Group.

“This gives responsible food producers a chance to stand out by making specific changes to their production to lower environmental impacts. Introducing a new ingredient such as Metapod’s with a very low environmental impact is a welcome move towards more sustainable food production.”

“Salmon Group’s test on the nutritional profile of our product shows that its quality is really good. Our next step is to deliver a big batch so they can feed it to live salmon and trout and document the effects.” Åsta Dale added.

According to Metapod, no salmon farming company has introduced insect flour from grasshoppers and crickets until now. Salmon Group’s investment in Metapod is exciting, they said, and with protein sources becoming more relevant in aquaculture, insects such as grasshoppers and crickets have a strong advantage.

“They have a lot more protein than insect larvae, and protein is what fish farmers need right now,” Fredrick Darien explained.

“We have a great belief in insect meal because it’s natural for fish to eat insects and you aren’t inheriting problems that a synthetic protein like soy might give, such as inflammation in the gut.”

Research also shows that feed from grasshoppers and crickets results in better immune systems and a better microbiota in the intestines as the fish receive a natural form of food.

“There is currently little research on the growth of salmon related to this new protein source,” Nils Inge Hitland said.

“But research on other fish shows no negative impact. We see insect meal as important in developing new raw materials and part of our work on building more sustainable farming.”

Insect meal could eventually reduce the need for fishmeal but a larger range of good protein materials could provide the basis for the sustainable growth of salmon farming. Fredrick Darien commented that new, alternative protein sources will remain important in aquaculture.

“The basis of our innovation is to be able to compete with the bulk of producers of protein for fish, which is why we have designed our process to facilitate production on an industrial level,” he said. “With an estimated fivefold increase in salmon and trout production within the next 20-30 years (in Norway), there is a growing and urgent need for new, alternative protein sources to be integrated in the value chain. In this way, the overall markets can be safeguarded from potential disruptions like natural disasters and new pandemics. We believe insects have an important role to play and are confident that aquaculture will benefit from this novel protein.”

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