Crickets Are Not a Free Lunch: Protein Capture from Scalable Organic Side-Streams via High-Density Populations of Acheta domesticus


It has been suggested that the ecological impact of crickets as a source of dietary protein is less than conventional forms of livestock due to their comparatively efficient feed conversion and ability to consume organic side-streams. This study measured the biomass output and feed conversion ratios of house crickets (Acheta domesticus) reared on diets that varied in quality, ranging from grain-based to highly cellulosic diets. The measurements were made at a much greater population scale and density than any previously reported in the scientific literature. The biomass accumulation was strongly influenced by the quality of the diet (p<0.001), with the nitrogen (N) content, the ratio of N to acid detergent fiber (ADF) content, and the crude fat (CF) content (y=N/ADF+CF) explaining most of the variability between feed treatments (p = 0.02; R2 = 0.96). In addition, for populations of crickets that were able to survive to a harvestable size, the feed conversion ratios measured were higher (less efficient) than those reported from studies conducted at smaller scales and lower population densities. Compared to the industrial-scale production of chickens, crickets fed a poultry feed diet showed little improvement in protein conversion efficiency, a key metric in determining the ecological footprint of grain-based livestock protein. Crickets fed the solid filtrate from food waste processed at an industrial scale via enzymatic digestion were able to reach a harvestable size and achieve feed and protein efficiencies similar to that of chickens. However, crickets fed minimally-processed, municipal-scale food waste and diets composed largely of straw experienced >99% mortality without reaching a harvestable size. Therefore, the potential for Adomesticus to sustainably supplement the global protein supply, beyond what is currently produced via grain-fed chickens, will depend on capturing regionally scalable organic side-streams of relatively high-quality that are not currently being used for livestock production.

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