In the coming days, the first farmed insects will arrive at a new massive cricket processing facility in London, Ont.
At full capacity, Aspire Food Group’s facility is expected to house four billion crickets and produce 13 million kilograms of the insect per year in what is considered the largest cricket-specific processing facility in the world.
This week, the federal government announced it would invest up to $8.5 million in Aspire’s London facility.
The plant comes with lofty goals. The chief executive officer hopes it will help address the planet’s food insecurity problems.
“Crickets have this incredible ability to convert what they eat into protein biomass,” said Mohammed Ashour, co-founder of Aspire Food Group, which has operated a research and development facility in Austin, Texas for the past six years.
Crickets can produce protein much more efficiently and with a fraction of the amount of food, water and land needed by other protein sources, Ashour said.
Most of what the London plant will produce will feed the pet food market, he said.
“Pets consume, pound for pound, more meat than their owners,” he said. “That’s because every meal of every day is made up of about 30 percent meat.”
The London office currently employs 45 people and hopes to hire 55 more within 12 months.
Insects an ‘old’ food source
Ashour launched his idea of breeding and breeding insects for food in 2013, when he was a medical student at McGill University. He grew up in Montreal and now calls London his home.
Along with a handful of his classmates, Ashour’s team won the $1 million Hult Prize, which challenges young entrepreneurs to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.
“We are seeing tremendous growth in both population and protein hunger, while at the same time seeing significant reductions in farmland and resources to produce food.
“Our longer-term vision is to ensure that this is a protein source that can be available and affordable to really address food insecurity in many countries around the world,” he said.
“I think it’s so exciting that we’re at a point in history where we’re re-evaluating our food systems in general, exploring new ways to research proteins and more efficient ways to produce protein,” says Evan. Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
One-third of the world’s greenhouse gases come from food, Fraser said.
“Unfortunately, protein and livestock farming is the major player in those negative problems.”
According to Fraser, there are one and a half billion cows on the planet.
“That number has to come down if we want to meet the needs of the future in a sustainable way.”
Right now, beef still provides the largest dose of protein, Fraser said. But with more research and breeding, there’s no doubt that the nutritional value of crickets will soon catch up, he said.
“In many countries around the world, insects are widely consumed,” Ashour says. “In the vast majority of countries in the world, various types of insects are consumed quite eagerly.
“We are simply reconnecting one of the oldest food sources in the world with people around the world today, but in a way that is produced at scale, at a price and at a quality that is much better suited to our current food production system. “