TEDxBCIT: Kathryn Redford

ubcLabKathryn Redford is an entrepreneur on a mission to create a sustainable food future. She is one of the co-founders of Ofbug: an ento protein producer in Vancouver, BC. In others words, she turns insects into animal feed. Roshini Nair unpacks.


What is Ofbug and how did it get started?
Ofbug is a start-up company that creates alternative and soy-free animal feed. The feed is produced from two different kinds of insects: black soldier fly larvae and mealworms. Redford was inspired by breeding insects for reptiles at a pet food store, and thought, why not feed insects to other animals?


What is the impact of meat production on food systems?
According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, meat production is a huge stressor on the environment and a leading cause for a loss of biodiversity. Redford says a lot of this can be attributed to the fact that a huge amount of land is used for growing animal feed, particularly crops like soy which use up tremendous amounts of water.


mixdevAnd insects help because… 
Insects can be much more sustainable than growing soy, Redford explains. Insects can be grown using waste products like compost, significantly less water, and far less space.


Won’t creating a sustainable animal feed make meat production easier and allow production to skyrocket?
Not exactly. Redford emphasizes the point of Ofbug is not to enable people to eat more meat. It is to reduce the environmental impact of animal feed production, and better utilize crop land.


Is feeding insect protein to a chicken “weird science”?
No. Wild chickens feast on a varied diet including seeds, insects and even small reptiles like lizards. Redford says that research and trials at a Langley farm report that their chickens produce healthy eggs.


product1OK, but what about feeding insects to humans?
Insects make up an important source of protein for people around the world, and Redford’s original idea was to market an insect (mealworm) flour for humans. However, Redford admits it was hard to get people on board, mainly because of the “ew” factor.


So what do insects taste like?
Unoffensive! Mealworm tastes kind of nutty, a very light almondy flavour, papery and crispy. It generally takes on whatever flavour you cook it in.


Are insects more like vegetables or animals?
Kind of like shellfish.

What’s the biggest barrier to getting started?
The biggest barrier is a legal one. Insects are not a regulated food ingredient for livestock in Canada and laws are still in the process of being reviewed and updated. But Redford hopes some new research will help guide the process.

Bottom line?
According to Redford, regardless of what we feed animals, people need to eat less meat for a more sustainable future.