Leeds University and Entocycle reveal research program for commercialisation of UK insect farming

University of Leeds and Entocycle unveil program dedicated to developing the protocols and codes of practice to unlock the growth of the UK insect farming industry.

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 nonpermissive feedstocks, including pig slurry, chicken manure and sewage sludge, to raise black soldier fly (BSF).

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.

Insects are still an emerging opportunity for farmers, and developing codes of practice and industry standards, in particular those on Food Safety, will help to align insect farming with other farming systems in the UK. The InSAFE project will help us accelerate our efforts to address some of the barriers facing the industry, in particular those related to food safety.

Dr Gesa Reiss, Global Food and Environment Institute Senior Innovation Fellow, University of Leeds

Existing legislation

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. Examples include vegetables not meeting specific supermarket standards, byproducts from vegetable processing such as potato or carrot peelings, or spent grains from beer or spirits production. Animal products are not permitted, with the exception of dairy products and eggs.

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.

State of the art technology

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 utilise 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 analyse 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.

Once UK legislation is updated to permit these inputs, we’ll see the price of insect protein fall and challenge incumbent protein sources such as fishmeal and soymeal, becoming a mainstream protein source across agriculture. The UK has a real opportunity to become a global leader in this space and become much more secure in terms of our food and feed supply – especially amidst the global shocks and supply chain instability of recent years.

Will Bisset, Commercial Officer, Entocycle

Another step towards sustainable agriculture

The UN predicts that by 2025, the world will have a 60 million tonne deficit of protein to feed animals and humans. 75% of global soy production is used as protein in animal feed, but its production is fuelling both deforestation in critical ecosystems and the climate crisis.

Insect farming provides a low-carbon protein alternative to soy and other feed ingredients by using less land area, less water, and fewer fossil fuel-based materials per kg of protein produced.

Keiran Whitaker, Entocycle’s founder and CEO, added

“I’m incredibly excited about this new research program for its potential to bring the industry closer to 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 valorisation of excess manure while helping diversify farmer’s revenue – it really is a win for British farmers and a win for the natural world

Dr Stella Peace, Executive Director for the Healthy Living and Agriculture Domain at Innovate UK, said

“At Innovate UK, our role is to inspire and invest in transformative changes that will future proof food production and manufacturing.

“The projects we are supporting showcase the diverse and impactful innovations emerging in the UK’s agri-food sector.

We are excited to see these develop further and look forward to working with them.