The insect diet takes off – but will you swallow it?

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Insects should be on the Australian menu, according to scientists at a new venture launched in Canberra. The researchers believe that meat is costly for the environment and that an alternative exists: maggots and other high-protein insects. Insects, they believe, can be farmed in great numbers as food for the poultry and fish that people eat but also for humans to eat directly. At the venture’s launch, (crunchy) maggot biscuits and a (softer) cake were offered. Insect farming currently takes place at an unglamorous industrial building in Fyshwick where flies are breeding, well, like flies. The company, Goterra, is working with scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation to scale up the enterprise and revolutionise the Australian food industry. At the Canberra facility, maggots – the offspring of the Australian black soldier fly – are fed food waste – the kind of stuff you throw out after cooking. That means that there’s less discarded food to rot in land-fill dumps. And the fattened maggots can be turned into food for humans, either indirectly by feeding it to farmed fish or poultry or directly. Sex is important to the venture because the more the flies multiply, the more their maggots can be used to process food waste. The CSIRO scientists are working on ways to get the flies mating more. They experiment, for example, with the temperature of the containers. “Are all the females getting a bit of the action,” as Dr Cate Paull, an insect expert from CSIRO put it. The company and the scientists believe the technology has amazing possibilities. If you eat 25 of the insects, for example, you get as much protein as if you eat 100 grammes of steak – but with a far lower carbon footprint. A portion of insect food takes one litre of water to create compared with 32 litres for beef. “For me roasted crickets are the perfect beer food,” said Dr Paull. “I don’t want to give up eating steak,” said Goterra chief executive, Olympia Yarket, but she was open to adding insect supplements to increase the “diversity” of diet. CSIRO is to hold a conference where persuading Australians that eating insects is not as bad as it sounds will be discussed. The aim is to develop a “road map” to change tastes and make insects more palatable. According to Dr Rocio Ponce Reyes, advertising may be one way of persuading Australians to swallow the insect diet. One of the scientists at the launch said that two billion people on the planet (of the current seven billion) have insects in their diet. In parts of Asia, for example, deep-fried silk worm is a delicacy. Mexicans put a worm in tequila. Crickets are eaten in parts of south-east Asia. According to Goterra’s Olympia Yarger, only 14 per cent of Australians are vegetarians. The carnivore market for meat and fish that ate insects as feed was large. Australia is playing catch-up on insect farming technology. Dr Ponce Reyes said that it is behind the US, Mexico and Europe. But the CSIRO team feel that the possibilities for Australia are great. One application would be puttinge containers of maggots in supermarket car parks or recycling depots. People would deposit food waste – potato peelings, uneaten meat and the like – but it would then be eaten by the maggots in the container below. Maggots as food devourers could be mobile. “We’re building the technology to breed the insects and transport them to wherever there is a need,” said Ms Yarger.

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