Making a meal of it: Study appraises all angles of insect production

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

© Nutrition Technologies
© Nutrition Technologies

Related tags: Insect meal

Ahead of the anticipated sanctioning of insects in poultry feed by the EU later this year, Wageningen University is leading a four-year multi-stakeholder project investigating the viability of insects as a sustainable feed source.

“The main goal is to establish how we can use insects as sustainable feed,”​ Professor Marcel Dicke of Wageningen University told FeedNavigator. 

He continued: “I think this is the most comprehensive insect study to date, as it takes in the total value chain in one study. It reflects growing recognition that insect farms are not the activity of a few isolated companies, but a whole value chain that is being developed.”

He described the project as a “multi-disciplinary public-private effort​”, as, on top of the €3.5m of funding awarded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), the insect sector has contributed €350,000 (10% of the total). In addition, although Wageningen University has been assigned to manage the project, it will be conducted in collaboration with several partners including the University of Groningen, the Dutch Food and Safety Authority (NVWA), insect companies Protix, Bühler Insect Technology Solutions (BITS) and Amusca Europe, and Rabobank. 

Multi-faceted study

The diversity of the stakeholders will enable the project to investigate the potential of insect production from a number of perspectives, from the economic viability of the sector to the health and wellness of both the insects and the poultry that will be fed the insects.

“This is not just a piece of scientific research; it will also examine the economical robustness and consumer acceptance of insect production as well as sociological, ethical and scientific aspects,” ​said Prof. Dicke. 

The study will investigate two insect species – the black soldier fly and house fly – and one question it will seek to answer is how the diets of these insects affects their susceptibility to pathogens. 

“We will study the waste streams currently being used by commercial producers: organic waste streams from other food production systems for black soldier flies and animal manure for house flies and analyze how substrate quality impacts on insect health and welfare. We know toxins can be present in the waste stream and will look at the extent to which these are degraded in the insect,” ​said Prof. Dicke. 

Effects of an insect diet​ 

He said that besides studying insect health and quality, the project will examine the impact of an insect meal or larvae diet on bird health and welfare, investigating bird behavior as well as monitoring immune response, blood values etc. 

“There are some indicators that an insect diet might reduce the need for antibiotic use by stimulating the gut microbiota,” ​he said.

Consumer acceptance of the concept will be gauged via consumer panels and expert opinions as well as interaction with consumer organizations, said Prof. Dicke.

The researchers will also assess the economic robustness of Europe’s new insect sector as it gears up for the approval of insects for use in poultry feed.

“We expect the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to deliver a positive opinion later this year on the use of insects in poultry feed,” ​said Prof. Dicke. 

He estimates that the research will start in January 2019 – at present the project leaders are recruiting a team and finalizing administrative aspects of the study.

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