INSECT protein is being billed as the next big thing in sustainable food, as long as consumers can overcome the 'yuck' factor and regulators can assure consumers the food is safe.
Pitching their startup business at the AgriFutures Australia, Evoke Ag conference, held in Melbourne last week, Hargol FoodTech, COO and co-founder, Ben Freidman said his company was dedicated to the development of alternative protein, sourced from edible grasshoppers.
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"We are the first commercial grasshopper farm in the world, and are setting up our second farm in Israel at the moment," he said.
"Grasshoppers are very rich in protein, over 70 per cent, and have all the amino acids a human needs."
Mr Frediman said insects were often more environmentally sustainable and efficient then other alternative protein sources as they required limited processing and produced no waste.
"We have limited resources and the population is growing, the existing protein alternatives are bad and harmful to the environment, some of them are heavy in processing, so we need to find a solution," he said.
"We use them for human consumption and have two types of product, one is dried whole insects, the other is a dried protein powder.
"We mainly send the powder to the US and Europe for further processing, such as protein shakes for athletes, energy bars, cookies and pasta."
Mr Friedman said food safety regulations could be a barrier to entry in some markets.
"Obviously it is still an animal, you still have the challenges of growing and it is a new industry so we have to face new regulations," he said.
However entry into Australia was surprisingly easy, Mr Friedman joked while it took the company three weeks to access a visa to attend the conference, approval to bring the grasshoppers only took two weeks.
"And the grasshopper gets to stay," he said.
"It was really quick, they put us together with the Minister of Agriculture, we got the online system, filled out the necessary paperwork and got it approved."
Regarding food safety, Mr Friedman said while there was limited data on farmed product, insects were eaten in many parts of the world.
"It is an animal, we don't have any history of grasshoppers as a food, there is no background we can go off.
"We ran some lab exams, we know people who are allergic to shellfish might be allergic to insects because of the chitin.
"We do check every batch we send, the feed we are feeding them is also checked frequently, so in terms of food safety we are keeping the entire facility sanitised."
According to the Insect Protein Association of Australia website, there are currently no food safety laws in Australia that relate specifically to insects.
Evoke Ag organiser, Agrifutures Australia, general manager communications and capacity building, Belinda Allitt said Hargol were a participant in the Startup Alley program, held at the event.
“We have hundreds of delegates ranging from investors, entrepreneurs, researchers and government representatives from all over the world in attendance," she said.
"Startup Alley gave participants a unique chance to showcase their ideas and innovations and network with an international audience.
“It is important that we support innovative start-ups, even in their infancy, as these will become the industries of the future."
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