Flies: from nuisance to nutrition

A new €3 million, EU-funded project, PROteINSECT, is investigating how flies can contribute to the growing demand for protein in animal feed.

With an increasing global population and a rise in per-capita meat consumption in developing countries, there is a need to investigate alternative sources of protein for use in animal feed. Europe’s high demand for feed protein is currently largely met though imported soya.

For generations, a variety of insects have been a valuable source of protein for both human consumption and animal feed across continents other than Europe. As consumption habits shift to pork, chicken and fish, insects have the potential to be utilised more effectively as a natural ingredient in high-protein feed.

Although there is growing European interest in insects as a novel source of human food the PROteINSECT project is focussing solely on the potential use of insects in animal feed.

The three-year project, launched earlier this year, is being led by scientists at The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), located near York. Elaine Fitches, Coordinator of the global consortium, commented: “The potential of insects as a source of valuable protein has been recognised by scientists at Fera for a number of years. With expertise in entomology and food safety, Fera is ideally placed to lead the evaluation of insects as a sustainable source of protein in animal feed.”

Insects need a feed source themselves, and to avoid competing with other uses, PROteINSECT will focus on the use of waste materials for production of fly larvae.

“PROteINSECT is focusing its research efforts on flies not only for their ability to grow rapidly on a range of organic wastes, but also because there is already considerable expertise in countries such as Mali, Ghana and China. PROteINSECT provides us with the opportunity to work in partnership to exchange and build on existing expertise and improve methods suitable for both local and commercial scale production.

With 3 billion extra mouths to feed by 2050, the need to improve the efficient use of land for protein production and the effective utilisation of waste materials has never been greater. Flies, whilst considered traditionally as a household nuisance, have the potential to become a cost-effective novel source of protein for animal feed.”

The consortium consists of a diverse group of partners from Europe, Africa and Asia, ranging from feed industry multinationals, research centres and universities, to farmers. Fera in the UK is coordinating the project.