Sex lives of flies could be key to tackling food waste
21 Aug 2019 --- Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has revealed how a “secret recipe” to encourage Black Soldier Flies to mate can help tackle food waste. Working with Canberra-based start-up Goterra, CSIRO’s farming experts tested lighting, temperature, moisture, surface texture and diet in a bid to find the perfect combination of conditions that will encourage flies to mate. By boosting egg-laying, Goterra is aiming to increase the number of flies that will consume food waste and turn it into compost.
With this technique, CSIRO aims to reduce landfill, cut emissions from transporting food to landfill, and enrich soil with nutrient-rich fertilizer. Findings of this research have been released in line with Australia’s National Science Week.
“This is just one of a number of CSIRO projects designed to kick-start the growth of a new Australian industry that will use insects to tackle challenges like food waste and create a more sustainable source of protein for human consumption,” the agency explains. “Farming insects sustainably requires less land and water, while still maintaining a high protein production.”
Working alongside the University of Adelaide, CSIRO is also expanding its partnership with Goterra to investigate which native Australian insects are the best nutritional choices for human consumption. Later this month, CSIRO will host an international symposium on edible insects, and begin work on an industry roadmap to identify unique Australian opportunities to grow a local insect industry.
CSIRO’s Australian National Insect Collection will help identify native species of insects that are potential candidates for the edible insect industry in Australia, and work with local Aboriginal communities to understand traditions around witjuti grubs, bogong moths and green tree ants, which are known for their “zesty, citrus-tasting” abdomens, according to the agency.
Chief Executive of CSIRO Dr. Larry Marshall outlines that solving the challenges of food security and environmental sustainability calls for precisely the kind of innovative science and technology celebrated during National Science Week.
“CSIRO has been at the forefront of agricultural and food innovation in Australia for over a century, so it’s fitting that today we’re using that expertise to grow a new local industry using native Australian resources like insects,” he says.
“Growing a new industry is a complex, multidisciplinary challenge, but with CSIRO’s expertise spanning farming, insects, nutrition, economic and environmental forecasting, and collaboration with industry, government and universities, we have a strong track record for turning excellent science into real-world solutions,” adds Marshall.
While working with CSIRO, Goterra CEO Olympia Yarger had the Australian soldier fly Hermetia olympiae named after her, and said working with an organization as diverse as CSIRO meant her business could develop in multiple directions.
“We were inspired to start the business out of passion for insects and a belief in harnessing them to work for us, whether that’s as a source of food with edible insects, or to process food waste using larvae,” says Yarger.
“Our solution is focused on technology to create opportunities to use insects as a biological service. We’re building the technology to breed the insects and transport them to wherever there is a need, creating a mobile and versatile alternative to everything from sources of protein to landfill.”
Goterra accessed CSIRO expertise with funding from the CSIRO Kick-Start Program, which matches start-ups and small/medium businesses with research and development activities. CSIRO’s partnership with the University of Adelaide is part of CSIRO’s Industry Ph.D. program, which offers science Ph.D. students experience working on real industry challenges.
Rearing insects for commercial purposes
With insects contributing to a circular economy by recovering nutrients from organic residues and bringing them back into the food value chain, they are well suited to help the food industry increase sustainability and reduce waste.
Insects quickly gain body mass by eating low-quality food waste, which has a global supply potential of 1.5 billion tons, holding a potential of 100 to 150 million tons of underutilized proteins, according to Dutch insect protein manufacturer Protix. Addressable feedstocks are estimated to be around 30 to 35 percent, allowing for a production potential of 30 to 50 million tons of insect protein.
Protix has highlighted that the insect protein industry is rapidly gaining traction, reportedly generating US$300 million worth of investments last year. In June, the company opened a 14,000 square meter insect protein processing plant in Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands. The new facility, which is supported by food, feed and advanced material processing company Bühler, is the largest processing plant for insects globally and followed a €45 million investment.
The new factory enables the capacity of producing protein for the animal nutrition sector, which translates into feed for more than five million salmon, as well as for hens laying over 250 million eggs. To further elevate sustainability, organic byproducts from local distilleries, food producers and vegetable collectors are used to feed the black soldier flies.
Also in June, French agri-tech innovator Ÿnsect, earned €20 million worth of backing for a fully-automated, bio-based plant, which will house the industrial-scale farming of meal worms for premium animal feed and fertilizers. The facility is headlined by a project called FARMYNG, based in Amiens, northern France, and is co-funded by the European Commission and the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU). The site is due to open in 2021.
In related news, innovative lab-grown insect meat, genetically modified for maximum growth, nutrition and flavor, has been named as a viable and even a “superior” green alternative for high volume, healthy food production. This is according to researchers at Tufts University, writing in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, who have proposed cultured insect protein as a potential solution to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef degeneration, deforestation and climate change, which are resulting from conventional meat farming.
By Benjamin Ferrer
This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, PackagingInsights.
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