Bah, humbug! How insects could become the backbone of your Christmas dinner | Science & Tech News

Whether a traditional turkey or a meat-free nut roast, there’s plenty that goes into making a good Christmas dinner.

But while competition at the supermarket or your local butcher is always high ahead of the festive season, this year winds down against the backdrop of warnings of an impending UK food supply crisis.

A shortage of eggs, farmers say, could be just the start – so while your highly anticipated Christmas dinner may be spared from what’s to come, Easter lunch may not be so lucky.

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Thankfully, there is a potential solution all around us – some of them are crawling beneath our feet, others buzzing around above our heads.

And before you say “bah, humbug”, I’m not about to suggest you replace your lovingly prepared roast with insects.

Better Origin, based in Cambridge, wants to make food waste part of the supply chain. Given the United Nations estimates 17% of global food production is thrown away, there’s plenty to go round.

Here is where insects come in: feeding them that waste can transform them into a nutritious alternative to the carbon-intensive soya and grains commonly used to feed livestock.

“The way to view this is insect protein,” says Fotis Fotiadis, Better Origin’s chief executive.

“The reason it’s great and nutritious is their amino acid profile is very similar to meat. That could replace any form of animal protein in other parts of the food supply chain.”

Once the flies have been well fed on food waste, they are dished up for hens to snack on
Image:
Once the flies have been well fed on food waste, they are dished up for hens to snack on

How does this new supply chain work?

The ethos of the supply chain is using technology to mimic nature, converting waste back into food.

While you would likely not dream of eating a rotten apple, in nature it could re-enter the food chain – either by being consumed as is, or decomposed by bacteria and built back up.

“The system is not sustainable or secure – as proven by the pandemic and Russia’s invasion,” says Mr Fotiadis.

“We need to […] shift from linear to circular. If waste becomes part of the input, you become more independent.”

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The insects replace soya and grains in the hens' diet
Image:
The insects replace soya and grains in the hens’ diet

Better Origin has developed what it describes as an “automated factory in a shipping container”, with waste and insects stored in one end for them to consume. Once built up, they can be fed to animals.

There is already a real world example, as Morrisons launched a line of “carbon-neutral eggs” by feeding hens on its farms with black soldier fly larvae that have been fed with waste.

“It’s a win-win for everyone in the supply chain,” says Mr Fotiadis, with AI-driven algorithms used to completely automate the feeding process inside the containers.

Morrisons has been provided with 10 of the “insect mini-farms”, saving an estimated 3,000 tonnes of food waste and 2,810 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

Read more:
Humanity ‘treating nature like a toilet’
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Storage containers like these is where the magic happens
Image:
Storage containers like these is where the ‘magic’ happens

How will it go beyond eggs?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your insect-powered Christmas dinner (unless you do just eat bugs instead of your roast, I guess).

Better Origin is working with regulators to expand the amount of food types they can feed to insects, beyond the existing fruit, vegetables, and bakery waste.

The ambition is to repeat the “insect protein” feeding strategy for other animals, and the company’s plan has the backing of the University of Cambridge.

So while you may never want “all the trimmings” to include crickets, flies and mealworms, it may not be long before they play a big part in getting your usual favourites on to the dinner table.


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