The larvae of this miracle insect, which are great at converting organic waste into protein, can help us lower carbon emissions and replace environmentally damaging animal feed.
A super-fly currently being farmed in a pilot London lab could hold the key to a more sustainable future.
Labelled ‘nature’s perfect upcycling machine,’ the black soldier fly has the potential to become a source of high-quality protein meals while helping us get rid of waste.
This fast-growing insect is harmless, does not spread diseases and its larvae, in particular, are masters of bioconversion. They eat vast quantities of organic waste, from food scraps to algae, and, as they gain up to 5,000 times their own body weight in two weeks, they convert all that refuse into useful protein — while reducing the emissions that would have been generated through composting (the fly’s own carbon footprint is minimal).
Using sophisticated technology, black soldier flies can now be farmed to a large scale. The nutrient-rich larvae are edible and some people, such as American ‘bug chef’ David George Gordon, an early adopter who was already eating black soldier flies in 2015, believe that they can substitute high-impact meat as a source of protein.
However, their more immediate use is as an excellent replacement for eco-unfriendly animal feeds — generally ground into powder, they are suitable for poultry, pigs and farmed fish. For example, insect farming company Entocycle, which has a pilot plant in London, points out that using black fly soldiers instead of soya would reduce deforestation.
‘An area almost three times the size of Germany is dedicated to soy production, with 80% of the soy produced used to feed cattle, pigs, chickens and even (farmed) fish,’ they write on their website.
By contrast, a single tray in the company’s nursery contains about 500,000 eggs.
‘Insect protein is a sustainable alternative to soy or fishmeal which are both having catastrophic effects on biodiversity and the health of our planet.’
Or, as Entocyle’s CEO Kieran Whitaker succinctly put it when speaking at the Fast Forward 2030 Life on Land conference earlier this year, ‘We have a protein problem. Insects could be the solution.’
Organic farmer Patrick Holden is an early adopter of mixed farming systems, where livestock and crops work together hand-in-hand. He