Insects to help address protein deficit in feed

The Food and Environment Research Agency
September 07, 2012
By The Food and Environment Research Agency

Sept. 7, 2012 - Scientists at The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) have teamed-up with multinational animal nutrition business, AB Agri, to develop novel sources of protein for livestock production. In a new three-year project, jointly-funded by the Technology Strategy Board and AB Agri, insect larvae will be grown on a diet of low-value materials to produce protein for use in the diet of farmed animals, such as poultry and fish that naturally eat insects.

The project aims to tackle the 'protein deficit' that sees the UK currently import approximately 80% of the protein used in animal feed. The scarcity of agricultural land in the UK, together with the global demand for protein, means that the need to find more innovative methods for protein production has never been greater.

Fera entomologist Dr Howard Bell explained, "the larvae of flies are well adapted to grow on a range of organic 'waste' materials, producing large amounts of protein. The larvae can then be processed for incorporation into animal feed as a possible replacement for soya or fishmeal. An added benefit is that the remaining waste material is reduced in mass by as much as 50% and can be used as a fertiliser. The benefits of this approach are that it has no requirement for agricultural land, utilises waste materials of very low or no value and has minimal energy input needs."

The project team consists of entomologists, biochemists and animal nutritionists working towards the goal of developing methods for the generation of high-quality insect meal that can be exploited at an economically viable scale. Particular focus will be placed on assessing all aspects of safety surrounding the use of insect-derived protein as well as establishing its nutritional value and potential for its use in animal feed.

There are, however, a number of challenges before insect protein can begin to make inroads into the volumes of traditional protein sources that are used. As Project Leader Angela Booth of AB Agri comments, "firstly, we need to overcome legislative and any consumer opinion challenges  to allow material deriving from insects to be used in livestock feeds. Of equal importance are the technical difficulties associated with the development of a scalable production process. However, we believe that the complementary skills and expertise of AB Agri and Fera leaves us ideally placed to address these challenges."

The Fera/AB Agri research team aims to have a viable pilot scale production system developed and running by the end of the project. As poultry are naturally insectivorous, insect protein will be evaluated in the first instance through incorporation into chicken feed. It is very possible that insects, as a source of highly digestible proteins, will assume an important and increasing role in domestic livestock nutrition both in the UK and abroad.

About The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera)

Fera is an Executive Agency of the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Its remit is to provide robust evidence, rigorous analysis and expert professional advice to government, international organisations and the private sector, in order to support and develop a sustainable and secure food chain, a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks.

About AB Agri

AB Agri is a balanced diversified business operating in many parts of the food chain from plough to plate. The business covers high performance compound feeds and feed co-products from the food, drink and biofuels industries, feed micro-ingredients, analytical and consultancy services, livestock and poultry marketing.

About The Technology Strategy Board

The Technology Strategy Board is the UK’s innovation agency.  Its goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation.  Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy. For more information, visit www.innovateuk.org

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