EP7: The Buzz about Insects in Pet Food - Part 2

In this Pet Nutrition Show episode, Dr. Anna Sutton and Amanda Falconer dive deeper into the world of bugs in pet food - specifically the Black Soldier Fly.

They continue the conversation on how and why insects are being used in pet nutrition, with Martin Pike, the CEO and co-founder Viridian Renewable Technology, an Australian company making protein from insects, and specifically the black solider fly larvae (BSFL).

They cover how insect protein could help dogs with kidney problems because it's high in calcium and low in phosphorous. They also discuss how bugs in pet food might improve gut health, make chicken eggs better, and surprisingly, how pets love the taste! Plus, farming insects for food is good for the planet and the wallet.

Dr. Anna also suggests giving your dogs the fatty bits from your steak - it's okay and they'll love you for it.


Here are the headlines and some clips:

  • Last week, they talked about insects in pet food and their role. 
  • They discuss the suitability of insect protein for dogs with renal disease, mentioning that insects are low in phosphorus and could be a useful addition to their diet. 
  • Martin Pike, the CEO of Viridian Renewable Technology, explains the consistency of nutritional profiles and how they manage insect larvae diets.
  • They talk about regulations and guidelines for feeding insects and ensuring best practices.
  • Martin discusses the different insect-based products they produce, including protein meal, insect oil, and frozen meat blocks.
  • They mention the benefits of using insect protein in poultry feed and its positive effects on egg quality. They discuss the nutritional value of insect protein compared to meat protein and the potential benefits of insect protein for digestion, stool quality, and gut health.
  • The focus is on educating consumers and building trust in insect-based products.
  • The sustainability of insect protein production is highlighted, with a lower carbon footprint and positive impact on ecosystems.
  • They aim to make insect protein commercially viable for pet food formulations.
  • The episode ends with a food hack about feeding dogs a small amount of saturated fat from steak.


Have a listen to the show, but if you’re more of a reader, here's the transcript:

Welcome to the Pet Nutrition Show. I'm Dr. Anna Sutton.

[00:00:10] AMANDA: And I'm Amanda Falconer and each week we are talking nutrition, sustainable pet food and food hacks you can do at home. Now, last week we started a big series about insects, the role that they have in pet food and who's using them.

[00:00:25] ANNA: But before we do that, it's time for Q and A.

[00:00:28] MARTIN: Pet Q and A, where we answer what you're wondering about food, moods, and

[00:00:35] AMANDA: poos. Anna, I was talking with a vet this week and she asked me about insect protein and whether it was suitable for dogs in the early stages of renal disease. And just to bring people up to date here, she explained that the current thinking among the natural vets at is to keep dogs on a normal protein diet.

[00:00:54] AMANDA: So not a restricted protein diet, but to choose low phosphorus meats, like [00:01:00] for example, chicken or turkey. Now, she wondered about the suitability of insect protein in this situation. What do you think?

[00:01:06] ANNA: Yeah, that's a really interesting one, Amanda. Insects are quite unique in that they are. naturally quite high in calcium and naturally quite low in phosphorus.

[00:01:18] ANNA: And this is because they don't have a skeleton. They, they have a, an exoskeleton if you like. So insects certainly could be well suited for renal diets in that regard. And they're actually not super, super high in protein either. So for a moderate protein level diet for renal disease, insects could be a That's certainly a useful

[00:01:38] AMANDA: addition.

[00:01:39] AMANDA: And we may just need to release a Planet A renal diet ourselves.

[00:01:44] ANNA: This week is part two of our interview with CEO of the Australian insect based manufacturer of Viridian Renewable Technology, Martin Pike.

[00:01:57] AMANDA: I want to just come back to the first of your three [00:02:00] silos. So there's the food waste stream. So I guess if at. The other end, we've got the product and we want this consistency of nutritional profile for the product, because essentially the insect meal or the other products that you produce in the final stage are ingredients in other people's products, right?

[00:02:20] AMANDA: So I'm imagining that therefore, if you're going to be giving people a consistent nutritional outcome, you need to. Create engineers some consistency of the dietary inputs. Is that correct? Yeah,

[00:02:33] MARTIN: absolutely. I mean, we, with the manufacturers that we work with, you know, like, like Planet A, that consistency is very important and we can't be delivering product that, you know, varies from week to week.

[00:02:46] MARTIN: So you're absolutely right. We have to manage those diets very carefully and. Yeah, there's controls that we've developed to do that, but it also means that we can deliver the same quality of the nutrients as well. So if [00:03:00] you harvest the larvae at different stages, you get a very, very different composition.

[00:03:06] MARTIN: of the larvae. So we even harvest them at a very particular point to maximize the nutritional qualities of the larvae.

[00:03:13] AMANDA: Got it. And are there some regulations about what insects can be fed?

[00:03:18] MARTIN: Obviously, there's a lot more developed industry. So we base our standards on the Australian guideline, which is the Insect Protein Association of Australia, and also the European guidelines.

[00:03:31] MARTIN: So that's the IPIFF. And yeah, you're absolutely right. You know, they make recommendations. And in Europe, I believe it's actually mandatory, you know, what you can and cannot feed. And I'm a part of the Insect Protein Association here. And, you know, we're really trying to make sure that the industry has A clear understanding of best practices to limit what anyone can do, uh, because of course, you know, you can apply the same process in a [00:04:00] different way to a variety of different material streams.

[00:04:03] MARTIN: You know, you could actually use the black soldier fly larvae to process animal manures. And that's a great way to, to, you know, create value from those, but then whether or not you'd actually make protein ingredients or just say a fertilizer product from the output of your factory, uh, that might be, uh, you know, how you use those, incorporate those input

[00:04:24] AMANDA: materials.

[00:04:25] AMANDA: So in terms of the things that are produced, now obviously you do produce insect meal because Planet A, my company, uses it and other people in the pet food industry use it too and you have your own consumer facing brand, one with everything. But your insect meal isn't the only thing you produce, so what else is there and where does it go?

[00:04:43] MARTIN: Yeah, well, it all starts with the fresh larvae, from which we either produce our wet or our dry streams. So, the protein meal is the, one of the end products of the dry stream. First and foremost, we dry the whole larvae, and [00:05:00] that in itself, is a great product for poultry and bird feed. We supply that to a number of brands who sell to chicken and bird fanciers.

[00:05:09] MARTIN: And it's a great way to incorporate a really natural ingredient into the bird's diet, because of course, naturally that's just what chickens and birds do, eat insects. But from a scientific perspective, people have shown that including the insect protein at, you know, relatively small amounts. Five, 10 percent of the diet will actually improve egg quality.

[00:05:31] MARTIN: So it makes the yolks a more vibrant color. It can make the shells stronger. It can enhance the nutritional quality of the eggs as well. So this natural product really does have not just, you know, can we replace soybean, but actually what are the additional benefits that you get from including that in the diets.

[00:05:52] MARTIN: We also produce the insect oil. as well. So when we produce the protein meal, we fraction it out the [00:06:00] solid proteins and the oils. Again, that's a very palatable oil source that can be used in pet food formulations. But we're now starting to see that used in the cosmeceutical industry. So soap manufacturers, cosmetic manufacturers as an alternative to the fat sources, the oil sources used.

[00:06:19] MARTIN: In those products that some people might have allergies to. It might sound surprising, but the insect oil is actually very non inflammatory. It's for people with sensitivities to other oils in soap, for example, this can be a much softer product to use. Then, on the wet side of things, we actually produce a frozen meat block.

[00:06:42] MARTIN: That's something that we've designed to augment existing meat systems. So if you've got a canned product or a meat roll or a retort pouch product, it works almost exactly the same way as traditional meat, meat blocks, frozen meat blocks do in pet [00:07:00] food. And the benefit there is You have this, uh, very unique flavor.

[00:07:04] MARTIN: It's a mixture of oysters and chicken, if I'm honest, we taste test everything. And some of the products that have been made, you sort of have a bite and you go, Oh, well, that's, that's quite unique. And again, it's just, well, the dogs just go crazy for the flavor. And what was really heartwarming for us is my sister had, my family had a very old Labrador who sadly is no longer with us, but you know, as you can imagine for a very spoiled Labrador, she was getting hand fed blueberries and fresh salmon and any sort of traditional pet food, she just And You wouldn't even look at it.

[00:07:43] MARTIN: No, no, no. But for this one, you know, ears pricked up. What's this? Licking, literally licking the bowl clean. And so you can imagine how happy we were that we were able to produce that thing that one of our own pets just absolutely loved despite you know, ignoring any [00:08:00] other pet food out there. So

[00:08:01] AMANDA: it does well from a taste test perspective.

[00:08:05] AMANDA: I can see that and I know that personally, but how does the larvae meal stack up nutritionally against meat protein?

[00:08:13] MARTIN: That's some, that's a really interesting thing because we often hear people, you know, describing the insect protein as really high protein or, you know, sort of something unique. And in many ways, it's not in many ways.

[00:08:28] MARTIN: It's. Just as good as all the other ones. You know, we're not trying to say it's the most high protein source out there or anything like that, but the fact is it's just as good as all the other high quality products out there. So it's sort of basically means that you can have a protein source. It's really sustainable.

[00:08:46] MARTIN: Your pet's going to actually maybe love. the flavor of more than other meat sources, and it's equally nutritious for them. It's sort of a no brainer that you're not losing anything out in that equation. But interestingly enough, [00:09:00] that research partnership that I spoke about with CSIRO, they've started to talk about, what was the exact phrase, bioactive compounds.

[00:09:10] MARTIN: And this is sort of anti inflammatory. I'm pretty sure they even said anti aging. Again, there's more emerging research around the world showing that, you know, the insect protein can actually improve digestibility, stool quality, increase gut health with the flora from the, the fiber in the insects. So, it's all of these things now that we're realizing it's, hey, it's not just a replacement.

[00:09:34] MARTIN: And, you know, the protein quality is just as good, but there could be this whole plethora of other benefits that we didn't even realize were there.

[00:09:43] AMANDA: And would that then be part of the story that might need to be built for those consumers who still have a bit of an ooh factor about insects?

[00:09:54] MARTIN: Yeah, look, it's definitely an interesting one and different cultural groups react so differently.

[00:09:59] MARTIN: It can either [00:10:00] be, wow, cute, or, oh, disgusting. Um, nine times out of ten, when we get people down to the factory and they see a tub of these. You know, fresh larvae like wriggling around. It's sort of mesmerizing and same thing when people open up a bag with a product, even if they're sort of really hesitant or they're expecting something unpleasant in nine times out of 10.

[00:10:23] MARTIN: They're really pleasantly surprised. And so Our strategy there, I guess, is just to continue making products that speak for themselves. And I believe, you know, over time, people are going to stop thinking so much about that ick factor and really just start focusing on the end product, you know, which is something that the pets love.

[00:10:43] MARTIN: Uh, it's great for them. And, you know, let's be honest, sometimes you open up a can or a bag of pet food. It's a bit whiffy and it is what it is, but you know, if you can avoid that and actually have something that doesn't stink out your old cupboard, hey, that's a plus as well.

[00:10:58] AMANDA: And how much [00:11:00] really do you think that consumers are driven by sustainability concerns?

[00:11:05] AMANDA: In their purchase, their pet food purchase decisions.

[00:11:09] MARTIN: That's a really interesting one. I'd love to sort of have some stats and figures on that. I think it's definitely something that people are becoming more aware of, but it depends on your sort of purchasing constraints and what your interests are. It may not appeal to everyone and that's fine.

[00:11:25] MARTIN: And, you know, we don't have these. Unrealistic expectations that we're going to make everyone, you know, feed their dogs insect protein, although we'd love that. But we're, you know, we're targeting a healthy portion of the market over the next few years where it's enough to make an impact, where it's enough to give manufacturers the option to actually start using this alongside your other protein ingredients.

[00:11:48] MARTIN: And I think that's been one of the challenges. In the industry for for many years is just the lack of availability of supply, and that's one of the biggest problems that we're solving here, and [00:12:00] so it's going to be very interesting when the over the next 12 months when we finish our factory here in Melbourne.

[00:12:06] MARTIN: What that's going to do for the market here. And I think just having more products options out there is really going to make people take more notice and also just give it a go. And we're so confident that when people try it, they'll see how positively their dog reacts. And, you know, like I said, Everything should be sustainable, it should just be a given.

[00:12:29] MARTIN: And so if they can get something that they feel good about feeding, that their dog loves, and it's sustainable as well, you know, I think it's a real win

[00:12:36] AMANDA: win. Just in terms of the sustainability of it. So I guess there's a few components there. Say it's a great replacement for meat protein. It potentially has some other bioactive components that may make it even better than a meat.

[00:12:53] AMANDA: based protein. How does it stack up sustainability wise to producing, I don't [00:13:00] know, a kilo of meat? And I guess we're talking greenhouse gases, land use and water use. That's three things that

[00:13:05] MARTIN: come to mind. That's a tough question. The answer there is really multifaceted. I think you have to look at it from a few different perspectives to really get the full picture and we don't really like to, you know, speak negatively about any other industries.

[00:13:22] MARTIN: We're not trying to say that we're, you know, no one should eat meat or no one should eat fruit and vegetables, but yeah, we have to acknowledge that when you're producing both. There are environmental impacts, and it's not just sort of the, you know, the carbon impact, but one thing that we sort of sometimes forget about is the impact on the surrounding ecosystems.

[00:13:46] MARTIN: And so, even when we're producing, say, soy protein, you look at the, the sort of monocropping, the, just the land clearing that is, is done to farm that soy, it does have an [00:14:00] impact on the environment. Same thing with when we're producing, not, not wild caught, but, uh, you know, fish in the Farmed fish. Farmed fish.

[00:14:07] MARTIN: There we go. Yeah. A lot of potential for damage for the seabed from all the excrement from the, the fish. It's things like that, which we can just completely avoid by having this controlled indoor vertically farmed protein production process. Then you look at what the end products are doing. Obviously we've talked about the protein, but even the manure, the castings, or as it's called in the industry, the frass.

[00:14:37] MARTIN: from the lava has a really positive environmental impact. So as a fertilizer product, it is adding life back into soils. It's boosting that soil microbiome. It's improving immune health. of plants. I'd love to say that we fully understood the mechanisms. [00:15:00] We don't, but we've definitely seen the results. And you know, our customers are always coming back to us saying, Oh, I tried it on this.

[00:15:07] MARTIN: I tried it on that. It's just doing amazing things for my garden, for my lawn, for my vegetables. So you've got all these additional benefits as well that are not sort of, you know, just direct for our process. And of course, the fact that we can reclaim those materials that are currently being thrown away and prevent them from being wasted, prevent those nutrients.

[00:15:30] MARTIN: From being wasted. And again, you know, it's materials that have to be thrown out. Generally, you think about all of the energy, the resources that have gone into making those, if we simply put that pack into the landfill, that's a horrible waste of finite resources.

[00:15:47] AMANDA: Yeah, I understand that, that whole picture, but I guess to be sort of brutal about it, I was asking really a numbers guy whether you could reduce this to some numbers

[00:15:58] MARTIN: for me.

[00:15:59] MARTIN: I, we, [00:16:00] look, we don't like to talk too much on, on numbers because I feel like there's not enough clarity around the other protein sources to be confident. I mean, there's so many numbers thrown out about how you produce a kilogram of, of beef Personally, I think a lot of them are sometimes exaggerated or hard to understand really the full meaning, you know, from a carbon life cycle assessment, there has been some third party analysis done around the world and compared to other protein sources.

[00:16:36] MARTIN: So from animals and vegetables as well. Insect protein is right down there. It's really down to, I think, I quote the wrong numbers, one kilogram or one gram of carbon per kilogram of protein is very low. Fair

[00:16:51] ANNA: enough. Hey, one other question, Martin, more numbers, I'm afraid, but, you know, on a commercial side, we always worry [00:17:00] about cost.

[00:17:00] ANNA: when we produce commercial formulations. So how's insects stacking up cost wise these days? I mean, is it, are we almost at a point where we can incorporate insect into wet and dry diets and it be commercially viable?

[00:17:17] MARTIN: Yeah, look, that's what we've always aimed to do, Anna, because one of the other problems with insect protein in the past is things like cricket powder.

[00:17:26] MARTIN: Have been available, but the price has just been prohibitive for pet food manufacturers to use. So when we started down this track, we knew that we had to get those costs down there. But from our own perspectives, we also want to make sure that we're accurately representing the value of the products. So.

[00:17:45] MARTIN: We are never trying to replace things like low value soy or meat meal, you know, they definitely have their place in feed formulations, but based on the quality of the protein that we produce, when you look at it [00:18:00] from an analytical perspective. If we were to price match that, we'd really be underselling ourselves in terms of quality.

[00:18:07] MARTIN: So what we've aimed to achieve is very closely match, uh, the price of things like fish meal or kangaroo meal or your high quality protein ingredients that go into pet food formulations. And definitely, you know, with the wet insect protein meat blocks that we produce, I know that they often come out.

[00:18:27] MARTIN: Below the cost of traditional meat by products that are used or meat co products rather that are used in pet food formulations. I

[00:18:36] ANNA: think that's so exciting really because that's really where I guess we get into a bit of a struggle with those products because we are at that point virtually competing with the human food chain.

[00:18:48] ANNA: So having an alternative to release the pressure off the human food chain. It's really

[00:18:54] MARTIN: important. Yeah. And that's a, that's a really good point. And I think I've heard you speak about that [00:19:00] before. And that really stuck with me is, you know, we all like this idea of feeding our pets, you know, human quality food, but then we think about all the people that around the world.

[00:19:10] MARTIN: Don't have that food. And it does seem to be a strange use of resources. So by feeding literally human grade food to the larvae, we almost achieve that same result in a sense. But in some cases, we're actually producing a protein of a higher quality. To then feed our pets and solving that problem of the food wastage.

[00:19:33] MARTIN: Oh, that's a great way of thinking about it. I got a little bit distracted, I have to say, because I knocked over a cup of coffee on the table. I

[00:19:40] AMANDA: can hear it. I can hear it. I'm pretty sure I can hear it like dripping down on you, Sally.

[00:19:45] MARTIN: It's just all over my shorts at the moment. On a fly farm, you get used to, you know, flying things on your face, so you keep composure all the time.

[00:19:58] AMANDA: That was super interesting [00:20:00] listening to the rest of the interview with Martin and great to know that we've got an Australian manufacturer working on that, but we're talking to some other people in, in subsequent interviews about insect protein too, Anna.

[00:20:12] Oh,

[00:20:12] ANNA: that's right, Amanda. You know, there's so much going in on in the insect space that hopefully we're going to talk to some producers of different types of insects as well as insect foods.

[00:20:24] ANNA: I think that'll be super exciting.

[00:20:26] AMANDA: Great. And we'll have more on that coming up. But first, it's time for Dr. Anna's Food Hack.

[00:20:34] MARTIN: It's time for Home Food Hacks with

[00:20:36] ANNA: Dr. Anna. The food hack this week, Amanda, is steak, actually, which may not sound like a, a food hack, but when you make steaks, you've always got the little fatty bit around the outside, and I don't normally eat that, and what I do of it is the dogs get.

[00:20:53] ANNA: that. And you may think, Oh no, saturated fat, that's terrible. But you know what? Saturated fat is not [00:21:00] nearly as bad as some people might make you believe. Saturated fat is actually a normal part of our diet. And actually, fun fact, Mammalians, so puppies and kittens and also babies, I guess, human babies. The milk that, uh, these mammalian infants consume is about 50 percent of saturated fat.

[00:21:22] ANNA: So, so topping up your dog's diet with a little bit of saturated fat is not a bad thing at all. They can use it to help assimilate fat soluble. Vitamins, and besides that, it tastes fantastic.

[00:21:35] AMANDA: Lucky them. Lucky dogs in your household. They won't be the only spoilt dogs in Australia. And it's been an interesting episode and we would love to know what you think, so please leave us a review on whatever podcast platform you're listening to this.

[00:21:49] AMANDA: And if you'd like to ask us a question, do follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, and we'll try and get you the answers. Until next time on the Pet [00:22:00] Nutrition Show.

[00:22:01] MARTIN: The Pet Nutrition Show is proudly presented by Planet A Pet Food, bringing dogs a flexitarian diet that's good for them and the planet.

Join us in future episodes of the Pet Nutrition Show as we dig deeper into topics like the ideal protein content for pets, the importance of gut health, and the role of pet food in waste management. Let's create a sustainable and healthy future for our pets and the environment.

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