UK aquaculture hopeful as millions allocated to first large insect farm

A GBP 10 million (USD 12.9 million, EUR 11 million) funding package to accelerate the development of the first large-scale industrial insect farm in the United Kingdom has been welcomed by the country’s aquaculture sector.

The financial support program for a research consortium to deliver a complete demonstrator system for the conversion of food waste into insect-based animal feed and biofertilizer was announced by the U.K. government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). It will also aim to prove that the farming of black soldier flies is economically viable, low carbon, and scalable in the country, while validating its safety and efficacy. 

Led by biotech start-up Entocycle, which uses insects to make ingredients for pet food and animal feed, the project involves a range of organizations from different sectors, including the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, Cooke Aquaculture Scotland, and the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC). 

Also supporting its delivery are the University of Warwick, Durham University, Tesco, Beta Bugs Ltd, AB Agri Ltd, Better Origin, ISCF Future Food Production Systems, Fera Science Ltd., and Insect Technology Group UK.

“Through the use of insects we can guarantee local supply chains – the early experience of COVID-19 has shown just how important this will be in the future – while making significant reductions to CO2 emissions caused by the production of traditional feed ingredients,” Entocycle’s Founder Keiran Whitaker said. “The positive environmental impact could be huge, helping to support the UK’s transition to a net zero carbon economy and the restoration of natural ecosystems.”

According to SAIC, the farming of black soldier flies has the potential to help tackle some important challenges facing the aquaculture and agriculture sectors, but at present no single organization has the expertise required to make it viable.

By 2040, the consortium intends to establish the U.K. as an international center of excellence for the farming of black soldier flies and the development of related technologies. It aims to have delivered more than 100 sites internationally, creating 3,300 jobs in the country, and to save 50 million metric tons (MT) of Carbon Dioxide equivalent over the next 20 years.

“As the human population of our planet grows, the demand for food and protein will also increase exponentially. At the same time, it has never been more important to reduce the carbon footprint of our food production systems,” SAIC CEO Heather Jones said. “Farmed fish will be integral to delivering on that need, as a low-carbon source of quality protein, and the research capabilities and expertise we have in Scotland will be a key part in making the UK an international center of excellence.”

While aquaculture already has a lower carbon footprint than terrestrial proteins, the industry still has room for further improvement, Jones said.

“We can and should always look for new ways of further enhancing the aquaculture sector’s impact on the environment and new sources of feed will be critical in meeting that challenge,” she said.

Cooke Aquaculture Scotland’s Feed Performance Manager Mark Weir added that the prospect of an abundant, locally available, low carbon, alternative feed ingredient is attractive.

The salmon producer and feed manufacturer wants to help to prove the concept and work with research organizations to develop it so that it can be incorporated into feed supply chains, he said.  

Photo courtesy of SAIC


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