A Chinese farm is using AI to breed six billion cockroaches per year
Ever since I recreationally ate insects in the name of journalism in 2016, I’ve had a somewhat visceral reaction to cockroaches. So it’s just as well I don’t live anywhere near Xichang city in southwestern China, where a farm operated by pharmaceutical company Gooddoctor breeds six billion cockroaches every year.
Given most people reading this would likely consider one cockroach in their house too many, the farm, which is about the size of two football pitches, sounds like the stuff of nightmares. According to the South China Morning Post, the building is equipped rows of shelves lined with open containers of food and water. It’s kept warm and humid all year round, and an AI-powered system tracks the growth of individual cockroaches, ensuring the conditions are kept just right to keep cockroaches in a sexy mood for repeated nauseating procreation.
Why would anyone want that many cockroaches, you might ask? The answer likely does the near-impossible act of uniting humans and insects in utter disgust. The cockroaches are ground down as the sole ingredient in a traditional Chinese medicine – something which supposedly has a slightly sweet flavour and fishy smell.
And now I’m not hungry.
Perhaps recognising consumers could be less keen on taking their medicine if they knew saw behind the scenes, Gooddoctor lists the only ingredient as “Periplaneta americana.” As the scientific name for the American cockroach, this is strictly accurate but requires you to have a working knowledge of entomology. As one patient told the South China Morning Post: “This is knowledge I’d rather live without.”
But hey, what people put in their bodies in the name of good health is their own business – what’s more worrying, perhaps, is what happens if the cockroaches escape: especially if you’re one of the 800,000 people who lives in nearby Xichang. This, as Professor Zhu Chaodong from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, told the South China Morning Post, would be a “catastrophe” – and not one without precedent. In 2013, a million cockroaches escaped a smaller facility in Dafeng, causing a “large-scale disinfection” by local authorities.
If billions of insects somehow escaped the confines of their roach orgy, they would outnumber local residents by some way, needing an even more drastic response. I’m usually pretty critical of nimbyism, but I’d be the first to sign an anti-roach farm petition if I lived in Xichang. I literally wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I did nothing…