Scientists at Aberystwyth University have been awarded European funding to build on research around insects as a potentially valuable source of animal feed.
The award, made to the University of Aberystwyth’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, is part of “ValuSect”, an international project which aims to improve the sustainable production and processing of insect-based products.
ValuSect, which stands for “Valuable Insects”, is a consortium of partners coordinated by Thomas More University, Mechelen, Belgium and is supported by a €2m grant from the European Commission’s INTERREG North-West Europe programme.
Insects have big potential as a food source for both people and animals.
The wider programme, which includes 8 partners from 7 countries, aims to boost consumer perception and understanding, including its environmental impact. Research is being done on the emission of greenhouse gases, the impact of the substrate, on food safety and on the shelf life of the food product. Research currently indicates that around 30% of consumers are willing to eat insect-based food. The current global insect feed market was estimated at 133m euros in 2020 and is expected to reach 736.7m euros by the end of 2026.
Insects are a common feature of people’s everyday diets in countries around the world, such as Mexico, China and Ghana and offer a more environmentally source of protein than many other foods.
So far, the project has been studying crickets, grasshoppers and yellow mealworms as human food. But the grant will see the black solder fly species (Hermetia Illucens) added to the research menu and extends the work to look at using insect products in animal feed.
Commenting on the award, Professor Alison Kingston-Smith, who leads the ValuSect research at Aberystwyth, said: “This grant is an excellent boost for the project. Insects have big potential as a food source for both people and animals. With a rising global population, the world needs more sources of sustainable food.
“This project is a great chance for the Welsh agriculture and food sector to diversify into new markets. There’s no doubt that insect protein is an increasing focus in the food sector, and our researchers will be part of those exciting developments.”
As part of the extension to the project, ValuSect is now offering vouchers worth up to €40,000 to businesses proposing services to develop insects as feed businesses, for example optimising insect breeding conditions.
Dr Geoffrey Knott, managing director and co-founder of HOP, a business that produces cricket protein bars, said there was real interest from consumers: “HOP sells sports nutrition products made from crickets. We use crickets because they provide superior quality protein than plants and are more sustainable and ethically farmed than traditional animal sources.”