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California maggot farm offers new pet food raised on restaurant waste

By
Jean Lotus
Black soldier fly larvae raised on restaurant waste are freeze-dried and sold as pet food by a California company. Photo by Dennis Kress/Wikimedia Commons
Black soldier fly larvae raised on restaurant waste are freeze-dried and sold as pet food by a California company. Photo by Dennis Kress/Wikimedia Commons

DENVER, May 12 (UPI) -- A California company aims to provide pets and livestock with a new protein source -- freeze-dried black soldier fly maggots that grow on restaurant food waste.

Grubbets, made in California from insect larvae, are marketed as suitable for chickens, pigs, birds, fish and reptiles, the company's promotional material says.

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Parent company AgriProtein describes itself as a nutrient recycling firm that uses grub-growing technology to "upcycle" organic waste into protein-filled grubs, organic compost and oil for biofuels.

The fast-growing grubs are an efficient way to turn garbage into protein, the company said. Insect protein has been touted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as as a replacement in agricultural feed for fish meal protein, a product that has led to over-harvesting the world's oceans.

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The British- and South African-based company, which employs 150 people worldwide, opened a demonstration site in an industrial park in Jarupa Valley, Calif., last year, about 50 miles from Los Angeles.

But the company's larger maggot factory in the works is designed to process 275 tons of organic waste per day, collected from restaurants in the region.

"The processing of such large amounts of organic matter using our process has never been done before and is no mean feat," Ester Bortot, the company spokeswoman, said in an email.

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Black soldier fly larvae already are sold as exotic pet food under the names Phoenix Worms, Soldier Grubs, Reptiworms and others.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved black soldier fly larvae as a food source for chickens in 2018. It's also approved for certain aquaculture and swine food.

Another company, Maysville, Ky.,-based Enviroflight, a subsidiary of Darling Ingredients, also uses black soldier fly maggots to process biowaste on a large scale, and also sells larvae as pet food.

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Insects turning waste into protein is a natural process that has become a growing insect agriculture industry in the United States, as well as Belgium, India, Indonesia, Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Black soldier fly biowaste facilities have been funded by organizations such as the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and others.

Wasp-resembling black soldier flies are native to North America, and in their winged stage do not feed, so they don't spread disease like houseflies do, entomologists say.

In a maggot factory setting, female flies lay about 500 eggs on a hatch medium -- sometimes corrugated cardboard -- near the food source for their infant grubs.

Within days of being born, larvae munch through organic waste, growing 200 times bigger over a few days. When they reach the pupa stage, they are harvested and freeze dried, or processed for oil that can be used for biofuels.

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When up and running, AgriProtein said, it will have billions of flies, but most will remain in the larval stage, meaning they have no wings.

"We use cages within cages to ensure that our hundreds of thousands of flies, our most prized asset, are happily contained in a bio-secure environment that also ensures no external pest species or pathogens enter our facility," the company's Bortot said.

Insects can reduce the volume of wet waste matter by about 50 percent, said Jeff Tomberlin, who has researched black soldier flies as professor of entomology at Texas A&M University.

U.S. livestock farmers have used black soldier fly farming on a smaller scale to process pig manure into environmentally friendly compost, he said.

"You can use this this insect to digest material of no value and produce value," Tomberlin said. "[That's] not to mention the reduction in emissions, greenhouse gasses and pathogens."

"This is the wild west of the insect industry, and we're still seeing who can be successful at doing this," Tomberlin added. "The technology is there, but biologically speaking, we're just barely starting to understand insects."

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