Cockroaches: the next great growth industry

43 year old Chinese entrepreneur, Wang Fuming, has 6 cockroach farms with 10 million cockroaches. Stay with me, people, don’t squirm away. Since 2010 the price of dried cockroaches has increased 10-fold. Mr. Fuming will make you feel pathetic for complaining to your local slumlord. 

According to a story in the LA Times:

The 43-year-old businessman is the largest cockroach producer in China (and thus probably in the world), with six farms populated by an estimated 10 million cockroaches. He sells them to producers of Asian medicine and to cosmetic companies that value the insects as a cheap source of protein as well as for the cellulose-like substance on their wings.

The favored breed for this purpose is the Periplaneta americana, or American cockroach, a reddish-brown insect that grows to about 1.6 inches long and, when mature, can fly, as opposed to the smaller, darker, wingless German cockroach.

Since Wang got into the business in 2010, the price of dried cockroaches has increased tenfold, from about $2 a pound to as much as $20, as manufacturers of traditional medicine stockpile pulverized cockroach powder.

“I thought about raising pigs, but with traditional farming, the profit margins are very low,” Wang said. “With cockroaches, you can invest 20 yuan and get back 150 yuan,” or $3.25 for a return of $11.

Granted, katsaridaphobia, the fear of cockroaches, is not an outlier. It is the norm for most of us. But, it seems that in China that’s not the case because, they have 100 cockroach farms.

China also has an insect industry association and an edible insects breeding association. There was, actually, a Ponzi-based scheme that saw a million Chinese lose $1.2 billion in 2007 on ant farming. 

Earlier this year, Chinese experts had warned the country was not ready for an insect diet.

According to China Daily:

Guo Huanchao, a manager at the Yunteng restaurant in Beijing, where fried locust, honey bee pupae and bamboo worms are served, said there are no set guidelines on preparing insects as food.

“It’s hygienic as long as they are heated properly, either boiled or fried,” he said, adding that this is how people in Yunnan province prepare them.

Guo said supplies mainly come from Yunnan, where edible insects are harvested in the wild or domestically.

“The frozen insects are shipped here once a week, five kilograms at a time,” he said. “Very few enterprises rear large quantities of insects.”

Qinyuan county in Zibo, Shandong province, is home to the largest insect breeding base in the country. With about 200 insect farmers, it can produce 400 metric tons a year.

However, Liu Long, president of the Edible Insects Breeding Association, said investors are not rushing to enter the industry even though it generates cash and jobs.

Attempts to include insects in food management began in 1996 when what are now the China Food and Drug Administration and National Health and Family Planning Commission approved more than 30 health products containing ants. But since then, no progress has been made.

“The processing of insects should follow the same health and sanitation regulations as any other traditional food, to ensure food safety,” Gao said. “The mistakes made in the livestock industry should serve as a lesson for insect farmers.”

Influencing the public as well as policymakers and investors in the food sector needs more validated scientific research on the potential of insects as food, Gao said.

“Further documentation is also needed on the nutritional value of insects to more efficiently promote them as healthy food,” he added.

The Kunming Institute of Zoology in Yunnan province is the nation’s major research institute in this field. However, a spokeswoman said there has been no progress in scientific results on edible insects for years.

I once ate a chocolate cricket. I need to go get under the covers and stay off the floor. Starting to itch….