The idea of feeding insects to poultry is not new, but there is continued interest to understand more about the role insects could play in poultry diets in the future.
There are thought to be around 2000 species of edible insects in the world, but currently the black soldier fly (BSF) is the preferred insect species with potential for commercial scale production as they have been shown to grow well on a variety of organic materials in the UK.
Insect derived processed animal protein (PAP) has the potential to be a high-quality protein material for poultry as shown in Table 1, although the relatively high calcium content could limit its use in some formulations. It is worth noting that the nutritional value of insects can be variable depending on species, stage of harvest, the substrate they are grown on and processing methods.
Insect derived PAP has been permitted for use in pet food and farmed fish since July 2017, but there is strict EU legislation around feeding insects to poultry. Although the feeding of live insects is allowed, to date the feeding of insect PAP to poultry is still not permitted. However, it is expected that this ban is likely to be lifted in the near future, along with the use of pig PAP into poultry diets, and vice versa, albeit with strict rules in place to control the risk of intra-species recycling.
There is also legislation surrounding the substrate insects can be grown on as under EU legislation they are classified as farmed animals and therefore can only be fed materials of vegetal origin, with some exceptions. Research is on-going to identify if human food waste, such as that from the catering industry could be used in the future.
Currently, the use of insect oil is permitted for use in poultry diets, but so far, it is not competing with the use of conventional oils such as soya oil, mainly due to low availability and subsequently high cost.
There is potential, when legislation permits its use, that price improves and insect PAP could be a sustainable protein source for poultry diets in the future, although some suggest that it won’t be price competitive with soya for another 30 years. It is therefore likely that we will see insects playing a larger part in fish, pet and perhaps even human nutrition before then.