The University of Leeds and Entocycle unveiled a new £430,000 research program dedicated to developing the protocols and codes of practice to unlock the growth of the UK insect farming industry and its potential to decarbonize livestock production.
The UK insect farming industry is currently constrained by strict legislation on the use of insect protein in animal feed and a lack of protocols and standards for insect-rearing facilities. Furthermore, current UK and EU legislation prohibits the use of livestock manure and slurry as a feedstock for insects, restricting its potential to reduce the growing problem of agricultural waste and the associated environmental pollution. Currently, feedstocks allowed to breed and feed insects are primarily of vegetal origin. Animal products are not permitted, with the exception of dairy products and eggs.
The project, named InSAFE, is funded by Innovate UK and BBSRC as part of the Novel Low Emission Food Production Systems competition and will evaluate the use of non-permissive feedstocks, including pig slurry, chicken manure and sewage sludge, to raise black soldier fly (BSF). Protocols, codes of practice and Food Safety and Quality standards will also be developed for a range of production scales, from small lab-scale units to commercial farms.
A new, state-of-the-art insect-rearing demonstrator facility, developed and installed by the UK’s leading insect technology company Entocycle, will house the research and is situated at The National Pig Centre on the University of Leeds’ research farm in Yorkshire.
The 40ft walk-in unit – named ‘Entoexplore’, is the only commercial demonstrator to utilize non-permissive feedstocks in the UK, and it has been specifically designed and built to withstand the industrial requirements of handling these inputs. The unit mirrors commercial rearing environments with an environmental control system and Wi-Fi data monitoring.
Samples will be collected from the unit, in addition to Entocycle's R&D facility in London for permissive feedstocks, including segregated food waste. The research will analyze the bacterial microbiome, pathogen loads, presence of AMR genes, and heavy metal content of permissive and non-permissive feedstocks before and after insect bioconversion (the natural process of insects eating and upcycling waste matter into higher-value products such as protein and fertiliser), alongside analysis of the BSF larvae and by-products such as frass.
Keiran Whitaker, Entocycle’s founder and CEO, said, “I’m incredibly excited about this new research program for its potential to bring the industry closer to delivering the positive impact we know insects can have on our planet and food systems. Paving the way for commercial insect farming would reduce UK carbon emissions from the agricultural sector and help protect and restore our rivers and waterways through the valorization of excess manure while helping diversify farmer’s revenue – it really is a win for British farmers and for the natural world."