The insects are coming!
Denmark will be the pioneering country for sustainable industrial insect production for food and feed. This is the goal of a new project in which researchers from Aarhus University, in collaboration with colleagues and the industry, will use organic by-products and waste products to raise insects on a large scale.
In recent years, insects have attracted much attention as an alternative source of food protein and you can even buy mealworms and grasshoppers in Danish specialty shops. They are, however, still a niche product.
The partners in the project inVALUABLE are trying to change that. The project, which has been granted 19 million DKK from Innovation Fund Denmark, has a goal to establish an industrial production of insects for feed and food, with an annual turnover of 200-300 million DKK and up to 200 related jobs.
The focus of the project is mealworms because these insects constitute a viable alternative to other protein sources in addition to which they can be fed food leftovers and other side stream bioresources. In this way, the insects can convert low value products to valuable food and feed.
Possible alternative to antibiotics
In the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University, Associate Professor Jan Værum Nørgaard will lead the part of the work that concerns the farm animals. He and his colleagues will evaluate mealworms as a potential food product for humans by investigating how pigs digest the larvae. The pigs will thus act as models for humans.
The researchers will also investigate how mealworms affect the health and growth of young pigs.
- We believe that the insects contain substances that are beneficial to the immune system. We therefore hope that we can discover some properties that can enable us to reduce the use of antibiotics in pig production if we use the insects in the feed, says Jan Værum Nørgaard.
Pigs not picky
Even though insects have lately been acknowledged as an environmentally-friendly and realistic alternative to well-known feedstuffs and food, the demand for them is still minimal. In order for insect production to make a difference, the quantity needs to be large. The researchers at Aarhus University will therefore also try to lay the groundwork for the establishment of a greater demand.
- There is already a very big industry in Asia, but there is still no big market for food insects among Danish consumers. Fortunately, pigs are not picky so it can prove to be easier to use the insects as a feed ingredient. However, we do expect demand to increase significantly among consumers and animal farmers when the world will becomes in short supply of protein sources further down the road, says Jan Værum Nørgaard and adds that you can also look at insects from another angle:
- We need protein for the world’s growing population. If we could replace some of our present meat with insects it could solve some of the problems seen in animal production, such as environmental impact, greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare and antibiotic resistance.
The project inVALUABLE (Insect Value Chain in a Circular Bioeconomy) has a total budget of 28 million DKK, of which Innovation Fund Denmark has granted 19 million DKK.
The project partners are: The Danish Technological Institute (project leader), Aarhus University, University of Copenhagen, Technical University of Denmark, Proti-Farm R&D, Novozymes, Hannemann Engineering, Ausumgaard, ScrapTrans, Agro Korn and DryingMate.
Associate Professor Jan Værum Nørgaard
Department of Animal Science
Telephone: +45 8715 7816