Insect farming start-up goals at pet meals as a gateway to human predation

Evolving beliefs about food are challenging traditional diets – and not just for people. Innovative dining options are also being added to our pet menus.

Startups have proposed numerous new ways to satisfy their appetites. The Great Britain Bella and Dukeprovides animals with raw food, for example, Buddy Pet Foods from Sweden serves natural dry food and Barkyn from Portugal personalizes their food.

If none of these wow their taste buds, our furry friends might try a more avant-garde delicacy: insects.

That’s what cooks in the kitchen of fly food, an Estonia-based startup. The company has developed an automated breeding system that turns fly larvae into animal feed.

“It’s a challenge for humans, but easy for animals.

Arseniy Olkhovskiy, who founded FlyFeed in 2021, said the concept grew out of research into malnutrition. He concluded that insect farming can provide an affordable and sustainable solution to protein shortages. But he plans to feed animals before approaching humans.

“With human nutrition, it’s a challenge right now because people don’t really want to eat anything that’s insect-related — but with animal feed, it’s a no-brainer,” Olkhovskiy told TNW.

The 24-year-old rattles off a long list of the benefits of raising insects: they’re fed treated waste that would otherwise rot in landfills; they grow up to 100 times faster than traditional animal food sources; they are rich in high quality nutrients; their cost of production is minimal; and they require far fewer environmental resources than traditional agriculture.

Olkhovskiy promises that they are also very tasty for pets. He says his own cat is a fan of the flavors.

Olkhovskiy studied over 40 alternative food production technologies before focusing on insect farming. Photo credit: FlyFeed

FlyFeed isn’t the first startup to turn insects into pet food. Ÿnsect in France has spent over a decade making ingredients from mealworms, while Jiminy’s in the US processes cricket proteins. FlyFeed uses another insect: bLack of soldier flies.

This species has several attractions. The larvae can convert organic waste into edible protein for animal feed and fertilizer. They are also suitable for wet food, rich in various nutrients, do not transmit disease and have a rapid growth rate.

The insects are raised on agricultural residues in vertically stacked boxes that reportedly take up 100 times less space than soybean or livestock farming. The facility will also use data-driven climate control to optimize conditions and computer vision to monitor larvae development.

Vertical BoxesVertical farming was chosen because of its scalability. Photo credit: FlyFeed

Farm-grown protein is incorporated into food. FlyFeed plans to ship the first commercial batch of the product next year. The company aims to convert 40,000 tons of waste into 17,500 tons of insect products annually. The output is divided into proteins, fats and fertilizers.

If all goes well, the early products will be a springboard for human consumption.

“First we have to scale it,” Olkhovskiy said. “We have to make it cheaper, we have to produce it with standardized quality, and we also have to get it to markets where people actually need it.”

Artist's impression of the factory.Artist’s impression of the factory. Photo credit: FlyFeed

According to Olkhovskiy, other insect farming startups are struggling to market their food to humans. He has chosen to instead focus on the operational and technological challenges. Once overcome, Olkhovskiy plans to distribute the products to countries where malnutrition is most critical. He expects to drive adoption through a low price point. While a pound of protein from cheap broilers costs $4, he says, a pound of FlyFeed protein costs less than $2.

In Europe, however, the low prices are not yet creating demand. AAccording to a 2020 EU report only 10% of Europeans are willing to swap meat for insects.

However, there are signs that attitudes may be changing. A study published last December found that people were more open to eating insects after learning about the environmental benefits.

Regulators are also starting to take advantage of the opportunities. In January the EU agreed to the sale of house crickets and larvae for human consumption.

Still, it seems unlikely that we’ll all be eating flies anytime soon. But maybe our pets can convince us to try.

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