Insects as a potential feed ingredient

One of the biggest challenges facing the animal feed industry will be meeting the rising global demand for feed ingredients resulting from the increasing demand for food as we head inexorably towards the predicted global population of 9 billion people by 2050.
The FAO estimates that food production will have to increase by 70% to meet this demand and that meat output is expected to double. This will inevitably lead to mounting pressure on world supplies of traditional feed ingredients such as grains and soyabean meal (see figure 1). As a direct consequence there is an increasing amount of effort being diverted into researching sustainable alternative feed materials.

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Figure 1:

Insects offer great potential to help meet the growing protein demand from the expanding population. Around 2 billion people, predominately in East Asia, already eat insects as part of their regular diet, with locusts and crickets being firm favourites in countries such as Thailand. It is likely that it will be sometime before insects are widely accepted on menus in Western countries so the focus is primarily on their potential as alternative protein sources in animal feed.

Some of the most promising species for industrial feed use are yellow meal worms, black soldier flies and the common house fly. Trials have shown that the larvae of these species are particularly suited to the large scale production of insect meals. For example the black soldier fly was selected for its short life cycle and its ability to lay many eggs. The nutritional analysis in table 1 shows that the protein content of insect meals is comparable to that of soyabean meal, the primary protein source currently used in monogastric feeds.


Table 1 : The nutritional analysis of insect meals compared to soybean meal

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One of the key advantages of insects is that their production has a lower environmental impact than that of other feed sources. They also offer a great opportunity to convert organic waste, such as vegetable and domestic waste, into a highly nutritious food source.

There are a number of ongoing collaborative projects (e.g. PROteINSECT investigating this whole area to gain a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities for commercialisation of insect meal production. Additional research will need to focus on establishing the precise feeding value (nutrient levels and digestibility) and inclusion rates for pigs and poultry.

Current legislation does not permit the use of insects in animal feed as they are considered as “livestock” and so cannot be fed to other livestock. More specifically the purified extracted fat extracted from larvae is permitted for use but the use of insect protein (fat extracted) is prohibited due to existing feed safety rules such as the TSE regulations. There are calls for changes to the legislation but it also acknowledge that there will need to be careful control of the substrates used for rearing insects to ensure food safety.

The costs of production for insect meals are relatively high at present it is likely they will initially feature in speciality diets such as piglet creep feeds. As they become more universally accepted economies of scale should reduce costs such that they will become more widely used in main stream pig and poultry diets.

In summary insects offer great potential as a sustainable alternative source of protein for feeding to pigs and poultry and their inclusion in feed will become increasingly likely (subject legislation changes) as pressure mounts to satisfy the nutritional needs of the ever expanding population.

Will White
Poultry Specialist – South West
M 07545 504138