Science - June 12, 2019

WUR investigates using insects for animal feed

Albert Sikkema

NWO will invest 4 million euros in a major study into the further development of insect farming for animal feed in the Netherlands. The study is to be led by WUR, with four Wageningen science groups contributing to the project.

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The study focusses on the production and welfare of insects, but also on the health and welfare of poultry that consumes insects. The chain development and economic robustness of the insect sector are also discussed. The project provides not only knowledge but also recommendations for investors, legislators, supermarkets and educational institutions. The researchers are collaborating with three companies from the young insect sector, including Protix, which breeds black soldier flies for cattle and fish feed.

What makes this project so special is that it involves Wageningen entomologists, economists, ethicists, consumer scientists, food safety experts and animal scientists. Together with immunologists, microbiologists, entomologists and ecologists from the University of Groningen, HAS University of Applied Sciences Den Bosch, insect companies and government agencies, they will investigate and shape the further development of insects as animal feed.

The research is funded from the Dutch National Research Agenda. It is the first time NWO is disbursing money from the research agenda, which makes 70 million euros available for groundbreaking research in 2019. NWO received 360 proposals, 17 of which were ultimately awarded funding. The accepted Wageningen insect project, led by entomology professor Marcel Dicke, will receive 4 million euros.

Protein transition
Insects are a high-quality source of proteins with a small ecological footprint and therefore tie in very well with the protein transition and circular agriculture, says Dicke. Insects are excellent substitutes for fishmeal and soybean meal in animal feed; the former is running out due to overfishing, and the latter is excellent for human consumption. The study focuses on an integrated chain approach ranging from the production of insects to consumer choices. The programme aims to provide knowledge for the rapidly developing insect sector, but also to make recommendations to societal organisations involved in the development of insect farming.