Sustainable food: Munching on maggots
We waste 1.3 billion tonnes of food around the world every year. But now a company in Cambridge, called Entomics, has found some hungry individuals who are not bothered by sell by dates to feed it to. These diners are maggots; or more accurately, fly larvae, which will eat just about anything. And when they’re well fed, they grow quickly and turn into a rich source of fat and protein, which makes ideal fish food for farmed salmon in Scotland. So far so good. But now, the Entomics team think that their maggot-based meal could find favour with a host of other animals too, helping to recycle wasted food safely. Marika Ottman went to the Entomics laboratory to speak with Chief Scientist and cofounder Miha Pipan.
Miha - We're currently in our biological R&D lab at the Department of Veterinary Medicine in Cambridge, and this is where the magic happens. Food waste, things that come off farms, packaging and sorting plants, it’s blended and the insects eat the food waste, they will fatten up. We’re starting with the insects being sub-milligram range - really tiny things that you can barely see and they can grow up to about 300-350 milligrams even, and that is almost like a thousand-fold increase in weight. The insects are then taken aside and processed to create a meal that can be then blended into a final feed for any particular animal.
Marika - Can I see a sample of this meal that you’ve developed?
Miha - Sure. I could show you a few that we have here. Actually, they smell really good surprisingly.
Marika - It smells like dog food!
Miha - Dog food, chocolate, you know. But it’s not probably as bad as you’d expect given that it’s maggots feeding on food waste. Not the most glamorous of work.
Marika - It looks like dirt, honestly. It doesn’t look like much.
Miha - No, exactly. This is some of the processed samples. I’m also going to be a crazy worker over the past three years. I would say there’s a hint of coffee in there.
Marika - As you’re the connoisseur I see there’s a lot of variety in these samples. Are you specialising them? What’s the next step in this process?
Miha - This is really what our process is all about it’s taking the samey sort of substrate that the maggots particularly what we’re working with at the moment is black soldier fly larvae. And then from them deriving essentially a variety of tailored meals for particular animal species, and one could even say going to the level of tailoring these formulations to particular stages of those species: juveniles, adults or senior animals. They obviously have slightly different nutritional requirement but, ultimately, quite a lot of it is linked to performing the feeding trials with the animals. Only then can we really realise is all the signs that’s been done to date, and all the expert opinion going into this. is that actually right. And that really comes down to being good at collecting samples and asking the right questions.
Marika - Possibly the most important question: do the fish like this?
Miha - They haven’t complained yet.
Marika - Five star review.
Miah - I’m not sure if it’s a five star review but the results have been quite favourable. We kind of want to really try some pets soon - cats and dogs. From the human side of things being the person who actually tries these, I would say there’s still some room for improvement.
Marika - You’ve eaten it?
Miha - Someone has to. And if I’m not going to do it myself then how can I expect someone else to do it - right? Currently it’s focused on animals but you could easily change it to humans as well.