Harper Adams University: PhD project to examine how insects could help make livestock production more sustainable

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A transformative role researching how insect proteins could help make livestock production more sustainable is being offered by Harper Adams University.

The fully-funded PhD project will examine how the black soldier fly can be used as an insect-based animal feed ingredient – boosting the circular economy and offering an alternative to current protein sources such soybean meal.

Dr James McCaughern, Lecturer in Beef Systems, will be principal project supervisor.

He explained: “Black soldier fly insects on the whole add a lot of value – they can turn lots of waste products into useful products – essentially turning any kind of organic matter into a high-quality feedstuff.

“That means you can use those by-products to develop food for other purposes – it’s a circular economy and there’s no waste.”

Dr Joe Roberts, Lecturer in Entomology and Integrated Pest Management, will be a secondary supervisor on the project.

He added: “The Western world is just basically waking up to what people have been doing elsewhere for centuries – using insects as a protein source.”

However, there are a number of hurdles that need to be cleared before black soldier fly can be used as an animal foodstuff – which includes the fact that it is, at present, against the law to feed the rendered insect protein to animals in the United Kingdom.

While recent changes in the EU mean that the fly is being included in some farm animal diets in European countries, its use is currently legislatively prohibited in the UK.

Concerns about cost and the standardisation of production of the insect as a foodstuff means that there is still industry scepticism about its use.

Dr McCaughern added: “There are a large number of questions to be answered before you can start putting it into animals and using it in animal production – which is something this role aims to look at.”

With growing attention being paid to the use of insect proteins, a group of Harper Adams academics are now meeting to discuss the issues which surround the subject. These include people drawn from a range of disciplines right across the University – something which Dr Roberts believes will be key to this role, too.

He added: “We are looking for someone who has a wide-ranging approach to science – they will have to be part entomologist, part nutritionist, part engineer.”

And Dr McCaughern said: ““The ideal candidate will need a willingness and ability to try new things – they are going to be given free rein to do what they want to do examining this topic.

“As a project, I’d have absolutely loved to have done this one myself!”

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