If you let chickens eat insect larvae, their meat will be exactly like the meat of other chickens. Insects in the feed result in meat with the same taste and nutritional content, but the process is far too expensive at the moment.
It is natural for chickens to eat larvae. Nofima scientist Rune Rødbotten and colleagues from all over Europe have now found that it is perfectly fine to use larvae in feed for chickens that will be consumed by humans. These chickens grow just as fast and taste the same as chickens that have eaten ordinary chicken feed, i.e. feed comprising mostly of grain.
The chickens have been eating feed containing larvae from black soldier flies. These larvae can grow on food waste, and they are known for being rich in protein. In the trials, 20 percent of the traditional feed was replaced by larvae.
We saw that the chickens that had to scrape the ground and pick up live larvae didn’t peck the other chickens as much.Rune Rødbotten, Scientist at Nofima
Can be replaced
The Norwegian researchers have compared how this affects the meat quality of the chickens. Italian colleagues have checked animal welfare, growth rate, intestinal health, and taste. Protein content, fat and tenderness are the same, and the meat is just as good and just as digestible.
“There are no differences, neither positive nor negative. The chickens that ate the larvae didn’t grow faster or slower. The consistency of the meat is also the same. If the meat is frozen, it loses the same amount of fluid,” says Rødbotten.
In other words: The chicken fed on regular chicken feed can be replaced by chicken fed on insect larvae without you noticing the difference.
The researchers have found only two small differences. The chickens that have eaten the larvae get slightly yellower flesh. However, only breeds of chicken that grow very slowly have been tested in these trials. They live six times longer than the regular Norwegian chicken breeds before they are slaughtered. With a shorter lifespan and fewer meals, it may well be that this difference will disappear completely in an ordinary Norwegian chicken.
The second difference is good news when it comes to animal welfare. Some of the chickens have had dried larvae mixed into regular feed, while others have had to peck at the ground to find live larvae that have been given to them.
“We saw that the chickens that had to scrape the ground and pick up live larvae didn’t peck the other chickens as much. They were more occupied trying to find and pick up the live larvae than they were with each other. This is a positive side effect,” says Rune Rødbotten.
Little interest from the industry
So far, scientists have not given the chickens feed consisting of 100 percent larvae. They didn’t know enough about the nutritional content of the larvae, so they started at 20 percent to make sure it didn’t have a negative effect on animal welfare.
Not long ago, the larvae were approved as chicken feed, so it is fully possible to start feeding chickens on soldier fly larvae straight away.
“So far, however, there has been very little interest from the Norwegian industry. We tried to get some Norwegian companies involved in the research project, but none of them were interested in participating,” says Rune Rødbotten.
This is primarily due to the fact that this project only dealt with organic chicken that grows very slowly. Rødbotten would have liked to have made comparisons with the common chicken breeds that one finds in Norwegian stores, but he did not get the opportunity to do so this time.
It is the economy aspect that is the problem when it comes to insects in feed. Despite the fact that the chickens thrive and their meat is nutritious and tastes good, insects are too expensive at the moment.
“The German researchers we collaborated with have conducted life cycle analyses. They found that this was definitely not economically profitable. You have to use a lot more labour on producing the larvae. They must be harvested at exactly the right time,” explains Rødbotten.
The larvae grow at a constantly quick rate, all week long, so there is no point in leaving them on Friday afternoon and hoping that they are just as good and nutritious on Monday morning.
For the sake of knowledge
In addition, energy is needed to heat the houses in which the larvae grow. This affects the environmental accounts of an insect production process that would otherwise be very kind to the climate and the environment.
“The cost would be twice as much as regular feed. And these larvae are produced in Belgium – it would have been even more expensive in Norway,” says Rødbotten.
It is possible to improve the numbers if production is large enough, but the researchers have not looked at this yet. “If we really want to succeed and politicians put regulations or taxes in place, it is entirely possible. The purpose of a project like this is to show that it is possible,” says Rune Rødbotten.
Facts about Poultrynsect
A research project to test the effect of insect larvae as part of feed for slow-growing, organic chickens. The intention is to make meat production more sustainable, improve animal welfare and hopefully meet consumers’ demands for healthier and more natural meat products that taste better.
The insect larvae are fed on organic food waste.
In the project, Nofima has collaborated with researchers from CNR and Università degli Studi di Torino in Italy, DIL in Germany and Inagro in Belgium. Nofima has contributed with expertise in meat quality. From Nofima, Rune Rødbotten, Anne Rieder and Shiori Koga have worked on the project.
The use of live insect larvae to improve sustainability and animal welfare of organic chicken production
The project aims to test the effect of live insect larvae as a feed ingredient in the production of slow-growing organic chicken to increase sustainability of poultry meat production, improve animal welfare and meet the consumer demands for healthier, more natural and tasty meat products.
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