Fera Science leads research into insect biomass

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Cranswick, Morrisons, Nando's and Oakland Farms have partnered with fera Science to research insect biomass on its potential for improving sustainability in supply chains. Image: Getty, Jaka Suryanta
Cranswick, Morrisons, Nando's and Oakland Farms have partnered with fera Science to research insect biomass on its potential for improving sustainability in supply chains. Image: Getty, Jaka Suryanta

Related tags Insect

New research into insect biomass could help reduce producers’ reliance on soybeans for animal feed and help improve sustainability in the food supply chain, according to Fera Science.

The group has partnered with members of the food industry on behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to research the safety of rearing insects – black soldier fly larvae –on currently non-permitted waste streams and their potential to improve sustainability across the food and feed supply chains.

The four waste streams are drawn from local sources close to Fera in the north of England:   Catering waste supplied by restaurant chain Nando’s, mixed food waste from Morrisons stores, mixed – but largely bakery – waste from food processor Cranswick and poultry manure sourced from Oakland Farms in Yorkshire.

Materials under investigation were chosen based on a questionnaire sent to key stakeholders including the National Farmers Union, insect breeders and farmers, and major food and feed producers.

Needs, availability and insect ability

Selection was based on three factors: the expressed needs of stakeholders; the availability of the waste stream over time, together with the perceived ability of the insects to utilise that stream effectively.

Dr Maureen Wakefield, principal scientist and FSA research project lead for Fera, said: “Our research project for the FSA has the potential to deliver a significant step forward in realising the potential of insect bioconversion (IB) to manage sustainably a range of widely available mixed wastes that are currently not permitted for use due to the presence of animal by-products (ABP).

“Our research utilising these four waste streams is examining whether there are risks to utilising these for IB. The project will provide the FSA with data for a risk assessment, which is required to determine whether there could be scope for a regulatory change.

Regulatory change

“With significant pressure on the food, feed and farming sectors to reduce their environmental impact, such a regulatory change could boost efficient management of such wastes as well as generating a sustainable source of animal feed and other valuable co-products."

George Roach, director of Oakland Farms believed that black soldier fly production has huge potential for reducing reliance on imported soyabean meal. However, for this to be viable, it has to be using a true waste stream such as poultry manure, not – as is currently the case – feedstocks that could be going directly to human and animal feed.

“When this is coupled with the possibility for added value through the bioconversion of poultry manure into a more nutrient dense fertiliser, I could not have been happier to help by supplying one of the waste streams, namely poultry manure,” ​said Roach.

Cranswick head of research & development Clive Stephens described the manufacturer’s involvement in the project as a natural extension of its investment in its sustainable supply chain.

‘Part of the solution’

“At Cranswick, we don’t want to be part of the problem – we want to be part of the solution by inspiring positive change by leading the way so that others can follow,”​ Stephens added. “Participation in the FSA project led by Fera provides us with the opportunity to support the evolution of the innovation that is IB.”

A final report is expected to be provided by Fera to the FSA at the end of 2023. Following sign off, the FSA research report will be made available publicly via an Open Access article with a joint FSA/Fera dissemination event planned for Q2 2024.

Meanwhile, in this month’s Food Forensics column, Alison Johnson discusses the food safety issues you will need to consider when dealing with insect protein.

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