AB Agri, together with the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), has been involved in a three year initiative, partly funded by Innovate UK, to assess the nutritional value of insect protein, based on house fly larvae, Musca domestica, for poultry.
Insects, or more specifically insect larvae, comprise a new source of protein that is said to have advantage over traditional sources in that several species can be reared upon a wide range of low value organic materials to produce protein with minimum land footprint.
Heidi Hall, technical project manager at AB Agri, told us: “Our research was about generating a protein feed material of known value - our findings indicate the amino acid composition of insect protein meal is comparable to fishmeal and slightly higher than soybean meal.
We also found that the metabolisable energy level of the larvae feed is higher than fishmeal, while the crude protein levels are around 60% of dry matter.”
The team carried out a feeding trial involving 144 male broilers with six birds per pen.
The broilers were fed a standard diet until 21 days of age, and then given the experimental diet at day 21 with 6 replicates per treatment. “There was nothing to suggest broiler performance would be negatively impacted from the supplementation of their feed with insect derived protein,” she added.
But an industrial scale trial is needed to validate these findings, said AB Agri technical director, Angela Booth.
The AB Agri researchers are now fine tuning the formulation requirements around insect meal to determine whether this new protein source could work as a cost effective substitute for fish meal in broiler diets. “It may prove, in the first instance, only beneficial for pet food and fish diets due to economic viability concerns,” said Hall.
Insect protein, together with our non-ruminant proteins such as poultry derived sources, seemed to have been given green light for use in aquaculture in the EU in June 2013.
However, the condition for using non-ruminant proteins for feeding non-ruminant farmed animals, as per Annex IV to Regulation (EC) No 999/2001, is the killing of the animals in an official registered slaughterhouse. For insects it is technically not possible to comply with this condition, thus preventing their use in fish farming.
Feed producers expect an amendment of Annex IV to be in place later this year – allowing insect meal to be used in aquaculture - after the release of a safety assessment of insects in food and feed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and its subsequent evaluation by the Commission.
Potential risks from the use of insect protein include chemical contaminants, parasites, microbiological threats, infectious prions and allergens.
A study, run as part of EU funded research project PROteINSECT and published in the first issue of the Journal of Insects as Food and Feed in February this year, evaluated the chemical safety of fly larvae.
The authors analyzed the larvae of the four fly species: house fly (Musca domestica), blue bottle (Calliphora vomitoria), blow fly (Chrysomya spp.) and black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) for the presence of veterinary medicines, pesticides, heavy metals, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and mycotoxins.
They compared flies reared in different environments on various feedstocks and in four geographically dispersed locations from UK, China, Mali and Ghana.
The researchers found the larvae, in general, possessed levels of chemical contaminants below the recommended maximum concentrations suggested by the EU Commission, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Codex.
However, the levels of cadmium in three of the M. domestica samples analyzed were over the EU threshold limits, they said.
Adrian Charlton, biochemist at FERA and one of the lead authors on the study, commenting on those findings in October 2014, told us: “As it stands, protein sourced from those flies could not be used in compound feed in the EU but, of course, these are challenges that can be overcome.”
He said the team also found pesticide residues in certain samples of agriculture waste that flies fed on.
“But the type and level of toxins in feedstocks very much depends on local agriculture, insect drying methods, and livestock rearing practices in a given market," said the researcher.