Flies as pet food? Sask. team wants to boost insect’s potential as sustainable protein source

Is your pet chasing flies? That could mean more protein, and perhaps someday a full meal. A Saskatoon-based company is domesticating black soldier flies because it says their larvae could be used in pet food or aquaculture. 

NRGene Canada was started in 2020, with a fairly unique proposition — make food out of flies. The company said it’s researching the black soldier fly to understand its genetic composition. Once NRGene has that data, it said, it’ll try and modify the flies’ genetics to increase larvae size and reduce egg hatching time.

Masood Rizvi, the manager of NRGene Canada, said the annoying buzzers can actually have multiple benefits. 

“If the fish can eat bugs or insects, why not? This is going to be another option to make things sustainable, where you are doing food production for the fish with very low carbon emissions,” he said in a Wednesday interview.

Instead of nurturing livestock, Rizvi said, it’s more sustainable to harvest insects because they’re in abundance and require less of everything. 

Masood Rizvi, the manager of NRGene Canada, said they’re trying to research black soldier flies to modify their genetics and get more protein out the flies’ larvae. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

NRGene has tied up with a Swiss technology group, Bühler, to set up the North American Insect Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. Rizvi said it is to support research and development in this area, and essentially, make the centre a testing ground. 

Rizvi said the larvae, if adopted widely, could put Saskatchewan on the map for sustainable innovation in food production. 

“We will see how we can utilize that information to bring it to the world and make sure that our byproduct or waste can become gold here,” he said. 

Pet food and food for fish made from black soldier flies’ larvae is already being sold in Canada. What’s different with NRGene’s project, Rizvi said, is that they’re trying to minimize how much they feed to the larvae while increasing its protein output. 

Rizvi said the process of getting protein from a fly involves multiple stages: first, a black soldier fly is fed; then, it hatches hundreds of eggs; those eggs then turn into larvae and require more feeding; lastly these larvae mature into bigger larvae that are then ground to make protein. 

This process, according to Rizvi, also discharges oil as a byproduct that’s used in some cosmetic products.

A woman in a white suit and eyeglasses.
Emma Le, project manager with NRGene, has been with the team since its inception. She said the concept fascinates her. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

Emma Le, project manager with NRGene, has been with the team since its inception. She said the concept fascinates her. 

“This is so cool because the world right now, we have a lot of problems — climate change and greenhouse gas pollution,” she said. “This industry is kind of solving that problem a little bit. It reduces the greenhouse gas and helps the environment be better.”

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