Eat your breakfast before reading on.
Many Americans gag at the thought of maggots, locusts or other alternative insect-proteins. But Louwrens Hoffman, a meat science professor at University of Queensland, is exploring how these unusual sources might be used to meet the growing demand for protein world-wide.
“An overpopulated world is going to struggle to find enough protein unless people are willing to open their minds, and stomachs, to a much broader notion of food,” Hoffman says.
He believes conventional livestock industries will not be able to meet the worldwide demand for meat, and alternatives will be needed to replace or complement traditional protein sources. He also is looking at ways to supply the livestock industry with additional protein sources.
"The biggest potential for sustainable protein production lies with insects and new plant sources," he says.
While Western consumers might find the idea of eating insect-based food distasteful, Hoffman’s research indicates consumers might be more willing to try the new proteins if they were processed and prepackaged, including being disguised as familiar items. He points to maggot breakfast sausage or insect ice cream, as one of his students created.
A Chicken’s Diet
Most of Hoffman’s research involved using larvae (maggots) from the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) as a protein source for chicken feed.
“Poultry is a massive industry worldwide and the industry is under pressure to find alternative proteins that are more sustainable, ethical and green than the grain crops currently being used,” he says.
The research team found broiler chicken diets that include 15% larvae meal didn’t significantly impact chicken production performance, nutrient-use efficiency, meat aroma, flavor, juiciness or tenderness. He likens the impact to chickens in the wild—that feed on insects and larvae.
Professor Hoffman said insect larvae could also be produced as a product from ‘upcycled waste’ including sewage.
“There needs to be a better understanding of the difference between animal feed and human food, and a global reappraisal of what can constitute healthy, nutritional and safe food for all,” he adds.