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‘Using insects as animal feed has additional benefits’
Why use insects as feed for animals?
Using insects as animal feed has additional benefits, not just for nutrition, but also in terms of animal health. Research is being carried out into whether insects can be helpful for reducing the use of antibiotics. For instance, you can boost the immune system of animals by feeding insects and chitin works as a probiotic. Also, the black soldier fly has been investigated for its antimicrobial properties and, in pigs, the lauric acid from this fly can prevent diarrhoea. So, I think these health effects make insects very interesting as animal feed and quite a lot of research is currently being done in this field.
Will insect meal mainly be used as an additive in animal feed?
I do indeed think it’s about mixing rather than replacing the entire feed with insects. Insects will always remain an ingredient, which is also usually the case with those used in fish feed. In some cases, you can replace fish meal by 100% insects, but in other cases this proportion is only 25%. it depends on the species of fish. Arnold van Huis, Emeritus Professor, Tropical Entomologist, Laboratory of Entomology, Wageningen University. Photo: Rene Verleg
The feed industry is very cost-driven, so how will insect meal fit in?
Using insects for animal feed can only be profitable by making production cheaper, for instance by growing insects on organic residual flows. However, such residual flows are also increasingly being used directly as feed for animals and will therefore become more expensive. The question is whether the insect business can compete with this use. That is quite a challenge, as the insect companies have had to invest heavily in production.
Pharmaceuticals, mycotoxins and pesticides are broken down by this fly.
It is said that the black soldier fly has other advantages, for instance using insect protein to make bioplastics or using insect lipids as biofuel; could this be more interesting economically?
When you’re not sure whether the residues which are fed to the insects contain heavy metals, then you might start thinking about using the insects for something else. In addition, the black soldier fly may have other advantages. In China insects are used for biodegradation of catering waste and manure. Biodegradation is very important there. Here biotransformation can play an important role. In Europe we have a major manure and nitrogen problem, so it could be an option to use the black soldier fly to tackle this problem. The flies could possibly convert nitrogen into proteins. A lot of research still needs to be conducted in this field.
What about feed safety when insects are fed with former foodstuffs?
Heavy metals are accumulated in the black soldier fly, so you have to watch out for that. Pharmaceuticals, mycotoxins and pesticides are broken down by this fly. That is a major advantage. To ensure feed safety, the residues must be certified.
In the EU the use of insect protein in feed is restricted; do you think this will change in the near future?
Using insects in feed is completely new, and legislation has not been able to keep up. I expect that this will change. In the US, black soldier flies can already be fed to chickens. Europe can’t afford to lag behind. I think that point will be reached in about one to two years from now. Free range chickens eat uncertified insects, which are found in the soil, but even if insects are certified, feeding them is not allowed. People are beginning to realise that this is nonsense. There is a great deal of research going on now and there are many steps that still need to be taken. For instance, in genetics. We started studying in this field only one or two years ago, compared to at least 50 years’ research on livestock species. Insects have a very short lifespan and research can therefore proceed quickly. However, I think we are only at the beginning and there is still a lot to learn.


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