The Industry Hoping to Raise Millions of Tons of Larvae

5 minute read

Sorry, but you're going to have to share your black soldier fly larvae. It's not only for you. 

That's because the farmers who raise black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) aren't dreaming of filling our stomachs with bug butters and protein powders. No, they're fine with our stomachs continuing to be filled with plain ol' chicken and fish. Instead, they dream of stuffing those chicken and fish's stomachs with BSFL.

These are ambitious dreams of enormous scale. Here's a quick overview of how they are progressing. 

Recap: A Virtuous Cycle

BSFL process flow from Enterrafeed.com

BSFL process flow from Enterrafeed.com

BSFL farming is a beautiful concept.

Us wasteful humans currently use land covering an area the size of Europe to produce food that ends up in landfills. Instead, this unwanted food can be fed to BSFL, who delight in eating it and upcycle it super efficiently into high value proteins and fats. Even the castings (aka poop) of the animal is a valuable fertilizer.

In short, food otherwise destined for the landfill is used to grow BSFL, who poop out plant food and are themselves fed to animals that we humans eat. It's a closed cycle. Mother Nature can relax

A Captive Market

It makes sense to feed BSFL to animals. Animals, like (many) humans, count insects as a natural part of their diets. And, unlike humans, they don't need to be seduced to eat it

The world needs more sustainable animal feed alternatives. Fish meal, which is wild caught fish fed to farmed fish at a 3 to 1 ratio, is becoming prohibitively expensive due to limited supply and growing demand. And Soybean meal is just as bad. The farming of soybean, an unnatural feed for many animals, is responsible for enormous rainforest destruction and fresh water depletion.

Animals don't care though. They will eat anything. But we shouldn't feed them anything if we want to preserve the environment. 

Dogs love BSFL too!

BSFL Farmers to the Rescue! 

Back in the late 2000s, a few ambitious entrepreneurs identified BSFL as a possible solution to this animal feed problem and began seriously pursuing the idea of rearing it industrially. 

A few years and millions of dollars later, a worldwide race has broken out. Companies like Enterra here in Canada, Protix in the Netherlands, EnviroFlight in the US, and AgriProtein in South Africa are competing to accumulate patents, expand scale, and develop top-secret breeding and feeding techniques. Reportedly at the front of this bug Olympics are some firms in China who are producing 20 tons of BSLF a week

Sure, 20 tons is a lot of larvae (over 100 million!), but it's nothing compared to the millions of tons of soy and fish meal fed to animals every year. BSFL farmers have a long way to go to make a real dent in the market. 

And while increasing production a million-fold is certainly a daunting challenge, BSFL farmers face another perhaps even more formidable hurdle, one that we at Heilu are very familiar with: Regulators. 

BSFL farmers are so secretive we can only share this artist's rendering of what a large BSFL facility may look like. 

BSFL farmers are so secretive we can only share this artist's rendering of what a large BSFL facility may look like. 

Regulating All Over the Place

Crazy truth: Regulation is stricter for animal feed than for human food. 

Want proof? Here you go: Certain insects like mealworms and crickets are fully approved for human consumption across the West, but for animal consumption... they're prohibited.

Make sense to you? Me neither. But that's the way it is, and what BSFL farmers are struggling with. 

Years of submitting towers of (hopefully recycled) paper to prove the safety and benefits of using BSFL as animal feed has unfortunately led to only sluggish progress: 

  • In the United States, the FDA has so far only approved country-wide sale of BSFL as feed to salmonids (like salmon and trout). Only a few smaller states like Washington, Oregon, and Idaho have approved BSFL as poultry feed. 
  • In Canada, after over four years of back and forth, in July 2016 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), approved BSFL for use as feed for poultry broilers, but only the entire larvae and not oil or meal. BSFL remain prohibited to be used as feed for poultry layers and fish. 
  • In Europe, regulation put in place following mad cow disease hysteria prohibits the use of any animal protein as a feed for food-producing animals. Since insects are animals, they're banned. On the other hand, the use of insect oil is not restricted. Indeed, the first insect-based animal feed, to be used for piglets in Europe, was announced in September 2016. 

Because of these regulatory hurdles, BSFL farmers are now in a race with time as much as with each other. They are racing to get regulatory approval to be able to sell their products and become financially viable before investment funds run dry.  

Taking a Shortcut

We at Heilu think that getting back to nature and closing the cycle by feeding insects to animals is a great idea. There's just one little twist we want to make:

Instead of feeding BSFL to animals, then feeding those animals to people, why not skip a step?

Why not feed the bugs straight to people?

It's even more environmentally friendly, plus BSLF tastes great and is super nutritious. 

What's more, if Heilu succeeds in making it acceptable for people to eat BSFL, it will have a domino effect on the feed industry.

Think about it: if we can convince you that eating Heilu is a delicacy, then imagine the supreme delicacy of eating a fish or chicken was raised eating it. It's like eating a steak that's been fed truffles. (Almost.) 

For that reason, we are working together with farmers to introduce BSFL to people's stomachs, whether that be directly or via some other animal. 


Speaking of Working Together...

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