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Feeding cattle with flies: Quebec university students win prize in Mexico

The two students and a biologist won top prize for a project that uses black soldier fly larvae to dispose of waste and produce animal feed.

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Two Quebec university students and a biologist have won top prize at an international event for a project that uses black soldier fly larvae to dispose of waste, and to produce animal feed.

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Mariève Dallaire-Lamontagne and Jean-Michel Allard-Prus, who are students in the Université Laval’s department of animal sciences, and biologist Jérémy Lavoie won the 2022 Youth Innovation Challenge presented in Mexico by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a trilateral group involving Canada, the United States and Mexico. Canada’s environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, was present.

The Quebec group’s winning project, Inscott, breeds black soldier fly larvae to eat farmyard waste like carcasses, a type of waste that is complicated to dispose of and requires a lot of energy. The larvae, which are an excellent source of protein, are then used as food for animals that, when they die, serve as food for the larvae. The process creates a circular economy.

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“What we are proposing is to improve the way we manage our animal waste here in Quebec and in Canada, by using the potential of edible insects,” Dallaire-Lamontagne said in an interview from Mexico.

“So we are talking about livestock residues such as carcasses, viscera, manure, eggs.”

After two weeks fed on this waste, the fly larvae “can be integrated into the diet of livestock such as that of chickens or pigs,” she said, “but they can also be used to feed domestic animals such as dogs or cats.”

Dallaire-Lamontagne, a master’s student, said food made from flies is less harmful to the environment than “conventional sources of protein, such as soy or fish meal, for example, which are associated with ecological issues.”

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The agricultural sector generates large amounts of uneaten protein made up of such things as brains, spines, intestines and bones. The traditional process for processing dead animal residue is called rendering and it turns leftovers into protein for animal feed.

However, Allard-Prus said the traditional process requires “an enormous amount of energy to heat all the biomass,” while the system developed with Dallaire-Lamontagne uses the digestive system of the larvae, and that uses few resources, space or energy.

Guilbault said the next step for the Quebec trio is to try to commercialize Inscott.

“The animal waste that we are tackling as part of this project is an issue, since we have to use large amounts of energy to burn these animal carcasses,” he said.

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“So finding an alternative solution based on the teachings of nature fits perfectly with the kinds of projects we are trying to encourage here (at the meeting of the CEC).”

The 2022 Youth Innovation Challenge invited people aged 18 to 30 in North America to devise innovative and concrete solutions to “help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and determine the intersection point between human health and the environment.”

“We have all been able to see the fragility of food supply chains during the pandemic,” Lavoie said, adding that he and the two students want to “give back a little more control to communities, and to cities” to “produce quality protein , then treat animal waste locally, and efficiently.”

The 2022 Youth Innovation Challenge also rewarded a team of young American entrepreneurs and a team of young Mexicans.

Each of the three winning teams will receive up to $15,000 in business start-up funds in addition to benefiting from mentoring for one year.

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