Harvesting insects for food

“Insects, like fly larvae, are also cost effective and produce a sustainable, high value product with no disadvantages en risks that we could identify so far.”

Although a great deal of money has been spent on getting rid of insects, they have been used as food for thousands of years. Dr Elsje Pieterse, of the department of animal science at Stellenbosch University in South Africa has shown that insects can be developed and used as an important food source for people, livestock, poultry and fish.


Dr Pieterse and her team began to research insects as a food source that may benefit the entire food chain, in 2007. Insect production, immunology,-virulence, digestibility and product quality are her research areas.

Farming insects gives the producer a low-cost, sustainable, high value product with no identified disadvantages or risks that researchers have encountered, says Dr Pieterse.

A farmed insect unit is almost 20 000 times more productive than a farmed soya unit, she added.

A further advantage to farming insects is that they remove waste, and stop soil water contamination by nutrients and pathogens.

The waste removal takes between three and 18 days in a system, she explained.

Insects are tasty and digestible with a good amino-acid profile, which makes it relatively easy to formulate them into animal feed. Naturally and historically they are a food source for several animals, she said.

“It is an outstanding new feed source, and if you take into account the inherent, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory characteristics, there are even more benefits.”

As poultry feed it has to be better than fishmeal which is not naturally on the chicken menu, said Dr Pieterse.


According to her research, flies, as a group, are currently the easiest insects to farm since producers can farm them in large numbers.

“The principle is easy. You take the insect from nature; you use an intensive system to grow and harvest the insects, and from then on it can be converted into animal feed.”


Dr Pieterse says that flies have a bad reputation because they may spread disease; but fly larvae are in fact “the brooms that clean”.

“People need to abandon their prejudices and realise that insects are at the top with regards to organic and sustainable farming practices,” she added.

There are many advantages to using fly larvae as animal feed.

Globally, regulations have prevented the use of insects as a feed source. European laws exclude insects from the sector and there are no regulations to govern insect farming but there are plans in Europe to formulate and publish regulations to make insect farming possible.

In South Africa, insect farming was legalised in 2008. The feed must comply with criteria relating to composition, microbiological safety, the presence of heavy metals and mycotoxins.

Insects grown for animal feed are fed on kitchen and human waste.

Insects grown for human consumption are fed mixed feed, and the same applies for poultry. Several insects were tested as feed for broilers, laying hens, bream (Nile and blue), catfish and ruminants.

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