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ForFarmers explores potential for mycotoxin, heavy metal accumulation in insect meal

By Jane Byrne

17-May-2016
Last updated on 17-May-2016 at 13:21 GMT2016-05-17T13:21:08Z

© istock.com/pepsikan
© istock.com/pepsikan

Dutch compound feed and premix manufacturer, ForFarmers, is continuing its extensive research into the use of insect protein in feed, this time looking at the safety aspects of feedstocks for the insects.

The company is collaborating with Wageningen University, Proti-Farm R&D BV, Protix Biosystems and Koppert Biological Systems in an investigation of whether there is any build-up and or secretion of chemicals by insects following the use of new raw materials such as out of date supermarket products in insect feedstocks.

This project, which was initiated a few months ago, will run for two years and will be a continuation of earlier research ForFarmers conducted into the potential offered by insect meal in livestock production.

In this collaborative exercise, we are looking to see whether there is an accumulation of heavy metals or mycotoxins in a range of insect rearing feedstocks from spent brewers’ grains and DDGS but also damaged or unused dry and wet retail products like baked goods or canned soup, we aim to provide concrete results using a really broad range of substrates,” Leon Marchal, director nutrition and innovation, at ForFarmers, told FeedNavigator.

The Black Solider Fly (BSF) larvae are being used in the research as, in principle, they can grow on a lot of different waste streams whereas mealworm tend to feed on dry by-products only, he said. 

The risk assessment from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) of insect derived protein, released last October, indicated no safety concerns when insects are reared on plant based substrates.

The hearing experts who participated in a working group meeting advised the EFSA experts the main substrates currently applied in EU insect production include commercial animal feed, former foodstuffs not containing meat and fish such as production surplus, misshapen products or foods with expired best-before-date that had been produced in compliance with EU food law and coproducts from primary production of food of non-animal origin.

Early animal nutrition

Young animals are the target segment for insect meal given their need for highly digestible and high quantities of protein, said Marchal. “It would not be cost effective to feed insect protein to fattening pigs, for example, which require diets higher in fiber and lower in protein than piglets,” he said.

Marchal said ForFarmers’ is not and will not be an insect producer. “What we bring to the project is expertise in risk management and knowledge in terms of raw material contamination control and monitoring,” he added.

He said while insect protein production is probably still a long way off and will most likely remain a niche sector, the company’s ambition to be a leader in sustainable feed production has spurred its involvement in such initiatives.

“We see things are changing. The EU has to find protein alternatives to reduce our dependency on imports like soy. So the ForFarmers’ R&D team is really looking to push the boundaries in terms of new protein sources, and has been examining the potential of other raw materials in relation to this such as duckweed,” he said.

Live insect feeding  

The company has previously evaluated, in conjunction with the Department of Entomology at Wageningen University, broiler behavior when the birds were fed live insects.

The researchers wanted to see whether the chicks grew in a healthy manner and at a sufficient rate in comparison to birds on a traditional diet. “We also wanted to look at whether the broilers’ natural behavior would improve as a result of the addition of live insects,” said Marchal.

The trial was conducted at ForFarmers’ experimental farm in Nijkerk in the Netherlands, where a total of 1,000 chicks were placed in four different groups. In the control group, the broilers got a traditional diet. The researchers replaced 5, 10 and 15% of the dry matter intake with insects in the trial groups.

The results, said Marchal, showed the larvae were very well accepted by the birds. “In fact, they were very eager to eat them. Feeding living black soldier fly larvae to broiler chickens encouraged the birds’ natural free ranging behavior," he said.

From an environmental point of view, the feeding of live insects is sustainable as there is no requirement to use any agricultural land or factories to produce the feed, he added.

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