Tyson Foods, Inc. has announced a joint venture with Netherlands-based Protix, the world’s leading “insect-based ingredients” manufacturer. They plan to construct and operate an “insect ingredient facility” in the continental US. Much contention has surrounded the proposed use of insects as human food to replace animal proteins. However, the stated goal of the Tyson/Protix “first at-scale facility of its kind” is to produce animal feeds from food manufacturing by-products. Perhaps it will bug people less that Tyson doesn’t plan to feed bugs to people … yet.
This novel partnering joins Protix’ technological expertise growing bugs in large indoor factories with Tyson’s global presence, but also with Tyson’s waste stream. The company plans to convert manufacturing waste from its existing food production operations into pet and livestock feed using larvae of the black soldier fly (BSF). Tyson Chief Financial Officer John R. Tyson calls this “full circularity within our value chain.” Diverting food waste from landfills is a valuable goal, and an army of bugs stands ready to serve the purpose.
In its public announcement, Tyson Foods stated:
The to-be-built facility in the U.S. will house an enclosed system to support all aspects of insect protein production including the breeding, incubating, and hatching of insect larvae. In addition to ingredients for the aquaculture and pet food industries, processed larvae may also be used as ingredients within livestock and plant feed.
Who Is Protix?
Protix has built an inventory of bug foods seemingly named by unimaginative 1940s pulp sci-fi writers. “ProteinX” is an insect-based protein meal with an “attractive balance” of nutrients for pet food and fish feed. “LipidX” is an insect oil recommended for livestock, fish, and pets (“good for brain health of senior dogs and cats”). To launch operations in the United States, Protix can use Tyson’s “existing byproducts as feedstock for our insects,” says Kees Aarts, CEO of Protix.
Synthetic meat is shaping up poorly due to issues of cost and scale. The potential of using fly larvae to convert waste products from landfilled liabilities to edible assets makes eminently more biological sense than vat-culturing calf cells in stainless biodigestors: Bug digestion has fewer bugs than the faltering technology of fake meat. Using food waste – whether collected by consumers or earlier in the waste stream, such as at the industrial production level – is also a win-win compared to lab-grown meats, which depend on environmentally-degrading GMO plant crops for their feed.
On the consumption end, Tyson’s hoped-for insect farms will “create more efficient sustainable proteins and lipids for use in the global food system,” according to a company statement. This implies liquid larvae or bug meal for humans, but assuming BSF grubs are raised solely for pet or livestock feeds, Tyson will not face the obstacles of the human palate to synthetic beef and six-legged victuals. Dogs and cats consume an estimated 25% of the US meat supply. Replacing some of the beef or chicken fed to pets with diverted food factory wastes via bug digestion makes commercial as well as environmental sense.
As inflation (including for pet foods) continues, Americans will likely reduce food waste at the dinner table. Industrial food producers that transform landfill waste into creating cost-competitive meat-replacement products for pets present a potentially uncontroversial business model – though offering lipid insecti-gel baby food might stir some dispute. Bug conversion of food waste may have a place at the table for sustainability, as long as it stays in pet food, not drive-thrus.