Enabling the exploitation of insects as a sustainable source of protein for animal feed and human nutrition

Place: united-kingdom, Europe
Sustainable management of natural resources Sustainable management of natural resources
Total Budget: € 2.946.537,00 | Period: From February 2012 To


Within the overall increased demand for food, and particularly meat production, there is also an urgent need to increase supply of protein from sustainable sources. The international PROteINSECT project aims to facilitate the exploitation of insects as an alternative protein source for animal nutrition. The project brings together expertise on insect rearing from China, Africa and the EU to optimise insect production systems. The feasibility of insect-derived proteins in animal feed will be demonstrated through trials with chickens, pigs and fish. Quality and safety along the food chain from the insect protein itself, to incorporation in animal feed and ultimately human consumption of insect-protein reared livestock will be evaluated. Use of organic waste streams for rearing of the insects will contribute to waste valorisation in addition to food security. Life cycle analyses will enable the design of sustainable production systems and a pro-insect platform will encourage adoption.


The Food and Environment Research Agency - United Kingdom

Lead applicant

The University of Stirling - United Kingdom

Initiative partner

Institut d'Economie Rurale - Mali

Initiative partner

Fish for Africa - Ghana Ltd - Ghana

Initiative partner

Huazhong Agricultural University - China

Initiative partner

Guangdong Entomological Institute - China

Initiative partner

Grantbait Ltd - United Kingdom

Initiative partner

Eutema Technology Management GmbH & Co KG - Austria

Initiative partner

Minerva Health and Care Communications Ltd - United Kingdom

Initiative partner

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven - Belgium

Initiative partner

Nutrition Sciences NV - Belgium

Initiative partner

Cabi - United Kingdom

Initiative partner

The principal sources of protein for animal feed are currently soya and fishmeal. However, the EU has a substantial protein deficit and has to import more than 80% of the protein required to meet demands for animal feed. As the world population increases and meat consumption in developing countries becomes more widespread, the demand for animal feed will also increase. Further issues in relation to land and water availability will place further pressures on the world’s ability to meet growing demands for animal feed protein production. Thus, there is an urgent need to identify and exploit novel sources of protein. Insects offer a promising alternative to conventional protein sources for animal feed for fish and monogastric animals. Fly species are the most extensively researched insect order for mass production and utilisation as animal feed. Furthermore they can utilise a wide range of waste substrates offering potential for low economic and environmental costs.

Sustainable rearing methods for insect larvae are key to the initiative. The methods must be suitable for a range of geographic areas, economic levels and technology availability. Thus, systems ranging from industrial scale to those that can be used by a smallholder farmer in different global locations are required. Method development involves identifying the most appropriate insect species to provide consistent, high production levels and advancing best practice by, for example, optimizing the substrates (waste streams) used for insect development and ascertaining the potential for reuse of the rearing substrate to increase overall production. In addition, appropriate infrastructure needs to be developed to separate high volumes of insect larvae and methods to dry and store the protein extracts need to be evaluated. Economic uses for the remaining rearing substrate e.g. compost, fertilizer need to be developed. The initiative is developing these systems in Europe, Africa and China.

Laboratory rearing of house fly larvae Video demonstrating laboratory production of house fly larvae
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf The PROteINSECT project flyer The PROteINSECT project flyer

More than 80% of the protein (>40 m tonnes of crop) required for livestock rearing in the EU is imported and much of it comes from non-sustainable and environmentally damaging sources, e.g. soya from South America and fishmeal. The growing global population coupled with a change in dietary patterns, with increasing consumption of meat and fish, requires that other protein sources, less reliant on cropping systems, are available to ensure food security. Insects are a good source of protein and can be incorporated in animal feed for poultry, fish and pigs. Although rearing of insects with the intention of feeding to domestic animals/fish has been evaluated for several decades there has been no adoption at a large scale and little attempt has been made to assess the safety, social and acceptability issues. Insects can be reared on a range of organic waste products and in addition to providing valuable products (protein, oils etc) will also reduce the volume of waste.

Systems for production of larvae have been set up in the UK, Ghana, Mali and China. Five different fly species are being examined. The rearing substrate and production methods vary depending on local conditions and end users. Although most systems are at an early stage of development, one system in China is already providing larvae for feeding to chickens on a modest scale. Optimization of the systems will continue, taking into account preliminary data from the life cycle assessment that has highlighted some factors contributing to the economic and environmental sustainability of the systems. Larvae produced by the current systems have been used in studies to examine the quality and safety of insect-derived protein. This will ensure that the protein has the required nutritional profile for incorporation in animal feed and that the feed, and the meat produced, is safe for consumption. Feeding trials for chickens, pigs and fish will be conducted in the latter part of the project.

Fly larvae production beds in Mali Beds used for the production of house fly larvae in Mali.
Production of fly larvae in Mali One of the steps in the production of house fly larvae in Mali
Trays for production of house fly larvae in China Trays for production of house fly larvae in China

There are many beneficiaries of the PROteINSECT project ranging from insect producers to animal feed producers, through farmers and smallholders and ultimately to consumers. The key stakeholder groups have been identified and factsheets produced that are relevant to their specific needs. The insect production systems will be of benefit to commercial companies wishing to develop large scale production facilities, for supply to animal feed producers, and to smallholder farmers, who will breed insects for feeding to their own livestock, with little, if any, additional processing. Thus, the project will result in benefits in both developed and developing countries. In a commercial setting, feed is the most important input for pig, poultry and fish production, and the availability of low-priced, high-quality feeds is critical for the expansion of these industries. There may also be benefits to associated industries such as those dealing with waste and composts/fertilizers.

Insect rearing systems are being developed by researchers from The Food and Environment Research Agency and a fishing bait company (UK), CABI, Fish for Africa and University of Stirling (Ghana), Institut d'Economie Rurale (Mali), and Guangdong Entomological Institute and Huazhong Agricultural University (China). The researchers are skilled entomologists with expertise in insect biology and behaviour. They also have expertise in insect pathogens, which could adversely affect the production systems. The researchers are working with the fishing bait company and with a poultry farm in China to ensure that systems can be scaled up and are suitable for commercial enterprises. In Africa and China researchers are working with smallholders to develop systems that can be of immediate benefit to livestock producers at a smaller scale. Insect production is intrinsic to the work of other research partners looking at safety and quality, life cycle assessment and feeding trials.

The PROteINSECT partners The PROteINSECT kick-off meeting February 2013

The main difficulties encountered in the development of the production systems have differed depending on the geographical location. In Africa, maintenance of adult populations has been problematic due to both environmental conditions and available resources e.g. lack of electricity, food substrates etc. In Mali, a natural oviposition method, whereby naturally occurring fly populations lay eggs in the substrate has successfully overcome this challenge. Suitable fly species for mass rearing have now been identified for the geographical regions represented in the project. One of the key challenges that will need to be addressed is animal feed legislation, which in the EU does not currently permit the feeding of insects or insect protein to animals. The data from the PROteINSECT project will be available to regulators examining this issue. The acceptability of insect protein in animal feed is being addressed through work to create a pro-insect platform. 

The PROteINSECT project aims to reduce the environmental impact of the production of protein for animal feed by reducing the land required for production of protein from crops such as soya. This land can then be used for production of crops for direct human consumption, improving food security for local populations and through export markets. Insect protein would also reduce the use of non-sustainable protein sources, such as fishmeal. The concept also improves the environmental impact of organic waste through a reduction in volume and sustainable use of the remaining substrate. The PROteINSECT project will undertake an environmental, social and economic life cycle impact assessment for the insect rearing systems developed. An initial assessment of existing systems has provided indicators of how the environmental impact of the systems can be improved and has informed development of the systems. A comparison with an existing protein source has also been included.

The PROteINSECT project will develop systems for insect rearing that can be used immediately by smallholder farmers and that can be used as a platform to develop commercial operations by industry. The development of sustainable insect production systems will encourage research on other novel uses for insects. The research on the quality and safety of insect protein will provide data needed for regulatory authorities to assess the potential for incorporation of insect protein in animal feed in the EU. It will also provide a basis for the assessment of the potential use of insect protein in human food. The project has built a network of research and industrial organisations interested in the used of insects as food and feed which will last beyond the life of the project and has generated new collaborations and research initiatives. 

PROteINSECT has delivered dissemination activities on a global level. Over 100 articles have been published, and video material produced aired by 8 TV and Radio stations across Europe. Press conferences in Ghana (June 2014) and Guangzhou, China (Nov 2013) resulted in articles in print, radio and TV broadcasts. The Website and Newsletter are targeted activities focusing on raising interest and awareness among specific groups. Activities that deserve special attention are “meet the insect” activities for school children (via science festivals and scout groups) and engaging local farmers in Africa through an “insect rearing road-show”. The PROteINSECT benchmark survey engaged 1300 people from around the world. A round table expert meeting in Brussels in November with key stakeholders (businesses, policymakers, scientists) will provide a state of the art report and lead the way to the project’s White Paper on insects as feed which will be presented to the European Parliament.

A poster describing the PROteINSECT project A poster describing the PROteINSECT project used for dissemination events
PROteINSECT stand The PROteINSECT stand at the 'Insects to Feed the World' conference, May 2014
Press conference in Ghana A press conference was organised in Ghana to promote the PROteINSECT project
PROteINSECT at the 'Insects to Feed the World' conference Several partners in the PROteINSECT project made oral and poster presentations at the 'Insects to Feed the World' conference held in May 2014.