UK - Insects perform as well as soy as a source of protein in nutritional tests, according to research presented at the British Society of Animal Science conference this week.
The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) and AB Agri have been investigating the possibility of using the insects as a sustainable protein source in animals in Britain, particularly focussing on chickens, pigs and fish.
With the EU only 25-30 per cent self sufficient in crop protein, new sources of protein are needed to replace unsustainable imported soy, the conference heard.
Insects are a good candidate because they can live on waste such as manure or food waste, and rapidly convert it into protein-rich insect biomass.
The researchers used larvae of the house fly Musca domestica in their experiments. They have managed to optimise the production methods of the fly larvae, establishing the best conditions for the larvae to grow in.
Nutritional profiling of the larvae showed that protein levels were generally more than 50 per cent of dry matter.
The amino acid profile of the larvae feed showed that levels of methionine, lysine and others were the same or higher than in soy feeds.
In addition, the content of some minerals in the insect feed was higher than in soy.
The researchers concluded that the amino acids and fatty acids in the insect feed were suitable for inclusion in animal diets, in comparison with soy and fishmeal.
A trial testing the digestibility of the insect feed compared with fish meal in chickens is under way, and initial results look good, according to Ms Wakefield.
The researchers have also tested the safety of the insect feed in another project, and no problems have been shown so far.
However, Ms Wakefield said that more research is needed to develop a suitable system for raising large amounts of the insects, as the current production method is too labour-intensive for insect feed production to be profitable.
She also mentioned that EU laws would have to be changed to make use of this opportunity, as currently feeding insects to animals is not legal.
Read our previous news item on insect animal feeds: