InnovaFeed, a French biotechnology company, is building the world’s largest insect farm in Decatur, Illinois, next to ADM’s corn processing plant.

Maye Walraven, business development director for InnovaFeed, said the effort is “revolutionary” because of the impact insect ingredients can have on improving the sustainability of the food system.

“Our factories enable our partners to do a lot of energy saving, and, therefore, to significantly decrease their environmental footprints,” Walraven said. “The real drive behind the project is the impact we can have and how we can sustainably feed the world tomorrow. Given how many people there are on earth, it is a huge challenge.”

The InnovaFeed plant will produce black soldier flies on an industrial scale. Black soldier flies were chosen for their valuable nutritional properties. Two different ingredients will be produced from the insects. InnovaFeed will sell the ingredients to buyers who will use them to manufacture fish food, pet food and animal food.

“We are not trying to do anything that is not happening in nature,” Walraven said.

Fish eat flies. Chickens and pigs eat insects off the ground.

“We are trying to place insects in their natural spot in the food chain,” she said.

What makes it exciting is the impact the effort will have on the environment, she noted.

InnovaFeed’s Decatur partner is ADM, which has a corn processing plant nearby. Biomass from the corn processing plant will be used to feed the insects.

“The biomass is almost a waste product, with very low value,” Walraven said. “This is a new way to valorize those byproducts.”

The two different products that the InnovaFeed plant will produce are a protein powder and an oil. The brown insect meal is very rich in protein. It resembles cocoa powder, Walraven said. The insect oil has a very similar profile to that of coconut oil.

“We commercialize it for swine and poultry because it has benefits on their gut and on their health,” Walraven said.

The idea is to supplement and replace feed with high environmental costs, with feed made from a sustainable, low-impact source.

"By feeding farmed fish food made from insects, we can drastically reduce the impact on the oceans," Walraven said.

In the past 30 years, the growth of aquaculture has exploded, she said. Last year, for the first time, production of fish from aquaculture surpassed production from fisheries. The problem has become how to feed farm-raised fish sustainably – without depleting the oceans. We are getting to the limit of how much plant-based protein we can feed to farm-raised fish.

“Insect protein can really be a way to continue the growth of aquaculture without having such a high impact on marine resources,” Walraven said.