The Chinese Farm That Breeds Cockroaches For Medicine

Jun 18, 2019 Kayode Oseh

Most people and tribes see cockroach as disgusting and obnoxious creatures. But to other people and tribes, cockroach is an amazing delicacy. To some it serves as medicine while to others it may be an object of worship. While the company of cockroach is not that welcoming to many people, the Chinese on the other hand takes this creature in a high esteem - as a source of food and as a source of medicine.    

A Chinese farm is breeding 6 billion adult cockroaches a year for medicinal use, the first time in human history that so many of the insects have been bred and confined in an indoor space, according to a report.

The farm, operated by pharmaceutical company Good-doctor in Xichang city in southwestern China, is equipped with rows of shelves lined with open containers of food and water in a concrete building covering an area of about two sports fields, according to the SCMP. It is kept warm, humid, and dark all year around, with an AI-powered system tracking how individual cockroaches are growing.

Cockroach-rearing is a booming industry in China—pulverized roach powder is patented as a Traditional Chinese Medicine ingredient and cosmetics companies use the insects as a cheap source of protein. There were about 100 large-scale cockroach farms in China as of 2013, and farmers could earn as much as $20 a pound, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. In the case of the Xichang facility, the world’s biggest cockroach farm, the insects are made into a liquid concoction that millions of Chinese patients use to treat respiratory, gastric, and other illnesses with doctor prescriptions, the SCMP said citing a local government report. A bottle of 100 ml of the medicine costs about $4.

Apparently people consuming the medicine may not even know that it’s almost entirely made of cockroaches, because Good-doctor only lists the ingredient as Periplaneta americana, the scientific name of the American cockroach—the reddish-brown insect that can fly when mature.

If, because of a human error or an earthquake, millions of cockroaches are released into nature, it would be a disaster for the near-800,000 inhabitants in Xichang and beyond. In 2013, about a million cockroaches escaped from a farm in southeastern China after someone sabotaged a nursery that was breeding the insects. Local authorities conducted a “large-scale disinfection” and urged residents to stay calm. Local authorities claimed (link in Chinese) that they properly handled the incident.

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