Students tout new food source: flies

Economical protein source? | Black soldier flies could be raised for livestock, human use

Four University of Lethbridge agriculture and management students will be gratified if food product labels one day list hermetia illucens as an ingredient.

Hermetia illucens is the Latin name for the black soldier fly, and the students successfully defended the case for raising the flies as a protein source for animal feed and human food.

Monica Gorham, Rebecca Joseph, Phyllis MacCallum and Lara de Moissac won first place in the International Agribusiness Case Competition recently held at the University of Guelph.

The challenge requires university student teams to read a case they haven’t seen before, analyze it, determine its pros and cons and then present a five-year implementation plan to a panel of judges — all in the space of five hours.

In making their case, the women concluded that flies could be a protein source for livestock and people, given future limitations on global land resources and water supply.

“We really felt it was a viable source in reality,” Gorham said.

“We were really excited about the opportunity that that could actually happen in the world, and I think that’s what kind of helped us with moving forward and placing first. We really believed in what we were telling people.”

Team members learned that several companies are considering using insects as protein, particularly in livestock feed and aquaculture, and they have identified the black soldier fly as a good candidate.

“We looked into the life cycle of the insect and it has a very quick reproduction cycle,” said MacCallum.

“Because they are cold blooded, you don’t really need a housing facility for them that’s really high tech, so the energy bill of producing them isn’t high.”

The flies can feed on waste from food already approved for human consumption, eliminating safety issues with food quality approvals.

“The nice thing with this specific insect that we chose is that it reproduces really fast. The larva is actually big in size so you can easily sift it out,” said Gorham.

The students found some judges less than enthused about their proposal to include ground insects in protein powders and spreads for human consumption. However, Gorham said the idea doesn’t bother her.

“We even said during our question period that I think if I ground up an insect, it wouldn’t bother me … and if you put its Latin name on an ingredient package, nobody would even notice.”

Added MacCallum: “We already consume some percentage of insect. It might not be very much right now, but to move forward with this, it’s just so economical, really, that it would be beneficial for all of us, I think.”

The win in Guelph also won the team a berth in a similar competition to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, June 15-19.

Gorham and MacCallum said they intend to go and are now raising the estimated $5,000 each that the trip will require. They hope to get sponsors from the agriculture industry as part of their funding.

The South African competition is sponsored by the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association and is part of that group’s 25th anniversary. About 20 case teams are expected to compete.

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