A company based in South Africa and founded 10 years ago is producing black soldier fly larvae as an environmentally friendly and sustainable animal feed alternative to fish meal, according to CNN.
"We take waste and convert it into our three products — one of which is protein," Jason Drew, CEO of AgriProtein, told CNN. The two other products are animal feed made from oil extracted from larvae and a fertilizer made with a blend of larvae and garden compost.
AgriProtein is using food waste to attract the flies, which then lay hundreds of millions of eggs daily, CNN reported. The company drew $105 million in a round of funding this year and is now worth more than $200 million, according to the founders. It plans to build 100 more facilities in the U.S., Asia and the Middle East by 2024 and another 100 by 2027 — and has partnered with Austria-based engineering firm Christof Industries in a $10-million deal to do so.
While consumers may not be directly eating AgriProtein's maggots, some of them are probably receiving the nutrients indirectly in the form of animal feed, even if they may not be aware of it. It remains to be seen how large a step it would be from this reality to actually serving up maggot-enriched meals on plates — and how consumers might react to that possibility.
Edible insects contain high levels of fat, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber, sometimes at levels similar to red meat or fish. House crickets are said to contain an average of 205 grams of protein per kilogram, compared to 256 for beef. Other insect varieties contain unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, essential amino acids and iron.
This past fall, Finland, the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, Australia and Denmark began allowing insects to be raised and marketed for food. A Finnish bakery has started selling bread containing cricket flour — about 70 crickets per loaf — in 11 of its Helsinki outlets and plans to expand the product to all 47 of its stores this year.
U.S. manufacturers are beginning to experiment with cricket flour as well. Chirps, Bitty Foods and Exo Protein are using it in various products, and MOM's Organic Market started carrying some products last year containing insects. PepsiCo posted a request on open innovation site NineSights seeking novel protein sources, including insect protein, for possible use in snacks and beverages.
Maggots could be another matter, though. Barring the ick factor, the sustainability factor could prove to be a convincing argument since fly larvae are productively using food waste and are reportedly able to eat twice their weight in about four hours. That could be an asset in countries such as the U.S., where 150,000 tons of food are tossed out daily, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Government regulations might need to catch up, however, since rules about feeding insects to fish and poultry vary among countries.
Consumption habits regarding insects also vary. Approximately 2 billion people worldwide routinely eat insects, which are a readily available, cheap and sustainable source of protein and other nutrients. As a result, the future for the sector looks promising. According to Global Market Insights, the global edible insects market could exceed $522 million by 2023, with beetles, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets making up the greatest potential growth areas.