Ecological insect breeding

The world population continues to grow. We must therefore find new ways to provide food to consumers while ensuring food and health security around the globe. The growing environmental need to replace livestock-derivated proteins has driven the European feed and food markets toward innovative protein sources, among which are insects. 

In this context, the Functional and Evolutionary Entomology Unit decided to launch an ecological insect breeding project.  Insects offer two main advantages for human consumption

They have low environmental impact with high feed conversion rates, low greenhouse gas production and require limited water use, reduced livestock area, etc.

They provide the human body with a source of essential amino acids, they are low in cholesterol, etc.. 

Actually, entomophagy (the consumption of insects by the human species) remains a delicate practice to integrate into our Westerner food customs. There are, however, other ways to benefit from the advantages that insects can offer us, such as passing through a more traditional farm animal (e.g; hen or trout). It is therefore why black soldier's fly (Hermetia illucens) is produced at the Faculty. Animals fed with these insects could then enter into human diet while avoiding direct contact between consumers and insects.

Rudy Caparros and Bertrand Hoc, PhD students in entomology at Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech (ULiège), explain that it is in a container specially designed for a research project on fish nutrition that black soldier maggots (larvae) are raised. These, which initially measure a few millimeters and will reach a centimeter, will develop in an environment composed exclusively of decomposing plant matter.

The first tests are devoted to the feeding of maggots. Initially, the researchers used brewery co-products (spent grain, yeasts, etc.) to determine the nutritional needs of the species. Now, plant waste produced by the Faculty's university restaurant is also recycled by these larvae. The university restaurant provides also wasted food that the preselected by the laboratory (peelings of carrots, cabbage or onions). In this way, the restaurant provides the equivalent of 5 kg of waste per week, in other words, enough to feed the larvae in a small breeding tank. Over one month, 2 to 3 kg of insects are produced.

Other foods, such as mixed salads or pickled products, have not yet been used to feed larvae as they could slow drastically their development by lack of appetence. Nevertheless, such experiments are planned for next year.

In the future, researchers aim to extend their range of foods to test on larvae. To obtain interesting results, it would be preferable to target products that can be stock or supply throughout the year. The laboratory targets industries that could supply them, for example, with beet pulp from beetroot used for sugar production or fruit peels from fruit used in the production of jams.

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