Aidan Leek  -  Insect Protein and the Layer Industry. Potential Input or Product

I live on a smallholding in Herefordshire with my wife and daughter. Since 2012, I have been employed as Technical Manager with Hy-Line International supporting UK and European layer distributors and their global layer parent stock client base with management and nutritional advice. I also have sales responsibility in the Scandinavian markets. I grew up in County Wicklow, Ireland. My father was in the veterinary profession and this helped to instil an interest in livestock from an early age.

Growing up, I also helped out with my family’s productive flocks of dairy goats, sheep and poultry. I went on to study Agricultural Science, specialising in Animal Science, at The University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonnington and obtained my BSc(Hons) in 1998. Much of my free time from university was gainfully spent working long days (and nights) for a harvest contractor - on grain in the summer and beet in the winter. Spring time involved lambing my Suffolk flock and a variety of farm-relief work on other livestock units in the area. With growing output and demand, specialisation in pig production appeared a good career route and I completed my Masters in Agriculture at UCD in pig nutrition in 1999. I went on to undertake a PhD in pig nutrition after taking a year out from my studies to work as a Technical Manager for Provimi Ireland. However, as a result of the down turn in the pig industry, I changed focus to the poultry industry, and in 2004, I accepted the role of Feedmill Technical Manager/Nutritionist with Sun Valley/Cargill Meats Europe. In 2008, I joined Premier Nutrition, the premix and nutritional advisory division of AbAgri/Associated British Foods. In the role of Monogastric Nutritionist, I worked with both pig and poultry clients, with responsibility for sales development and technical support of key accounts in the UK, Ireland, eastern Europe and Asia. 

  • Project Details

The world is seeking sustainable protein sources; both for livestock and humans. As the global population increases, and with it the demand for animal protein, new systems for efficiencies of production are required to meet this demand. Europe, in particular, has a need to identify sustainable and indigenous protein production and to become less reliant on protein imports. Presently, nitrogenous waste from intensive agriculture can be problematic to dispose of, especially in nitrogen sensitive areas. Through the bioconversion of nitrogen from waste material, insect protein may hold the answer to some of these challenges. There is gathering media and scientific interest in the use of insect derived proteins in animal feed. Insects, a natural part of the diet in wild birds, may be ideally suited to use in laying hen diets, providing not only a high level of protein and essential amino-acids to the diet, but also fats, minerals and carbohydrate. The primary objective of this project is to examine the potential for insect meals to reduce the reliance on imported vegetable proteins in laying hen diets. Currently, EU regulatory rules prevent the use of insect meals in animal feeds. However, it has been widely reported that this restriction will be lifted within the next year, provided that EFSA approve insect meal use at the conclusion of their ongoing assessment. This makes it an opportune time to study the potential use of insect meals and their application to the UK feed industry. This will help to ensure that the industry can capture the potential of a new development in animal feed. A second aspect to the project is to gain an understanding of the insect protein production, in particular from animal waste and for the potential use of these meals in the wider feed industry including aqua feed. This may present an integrated business opportunity for egg producers to add value to their waste streams or, by using insect bioconversion to reduce the nitrogen content, make poultry manure acceptable in greater quantities for anaerobic digestion plants. Issues around feed and food safety and establishing consumer acceptance will need to be understood and addressed as part of the study. Could eggs from insect-fed protein hens even become a positive marketing message capturing "in vogue" terminology; natural, sustainable, low carbon, low food mile diets? Alternatively, low consumer acceptance and concerns regarding food safety and bioaccumulation may limit the application of insect meals. The aim of my study is to gain insight and a greater understanding on this emerging subject from other countries where insect meal production industries are already developing.