Our research is divided in six different research topics. Read below what these topics are and what questions we intend to answer.

Ethics and welfare

Responsible insect production as feed for livestock raises basic philosophical and practical ethical questions.

We are investigating:

  • the moral status or ‘intrinsic value’ of insects and its implications
  • what concept of welfare is appropriate for insects
  • whether insects display purposive agency
  • whether a precautionary approach is appropriate while there is uncertainty about insect capacity to experience pain/suffering
  • how to weigh insect welfare against promotion of welfare of livestock to which insects are fed

Photo by Jeroen Bouman

Substrate safety

The insect production sector offers much needed opportunities for upgrading low-quality left-over streams into high-quality protein and lipids for feed and food. However, these left-over streams can contain potential chemical contaminants, such as mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are produced by fungi that infected the crops on the field or after harvest and belong to the most toxic natural compounds known. 

We are investigating:

  • whether housefly larvae can degrade mycotoxins without affecting their growth
  • how fly larvae deal with mycotoxins and whether transformation products are excreted or accumulated
  • whether these transformation products affect body composition and health of housefly larvae and adults

Insect health and immune system

Insect health (being free from disease or injury) is challenged when insects are exposed to harmful conditions. In nature, larvae of many fly species feed in aggregations on decaying materials that are extensively colonized by microorganisms. Fly larvae seem to be quite resistant to diseases. Yet, knowledge on the immune system of the black soldier fly and housefly is limited.

We are investigating

  • the composition of the immune system of the black soldier fly and housefly
  • what factors in mass rearing conditions challenge, fortify or compromise the immune system
  • the possibilities of the use of immunological markers to assess insect health

insect behaviour and health

Little is known about how to assess welfare of insects, in particular under mass-rearing conditions. We focus on developing a more comprehensive methodology for measuring insect welfare under mass rearing conditions. 

We are investigating:

  • how insect behavior is affected by insect density, feed quality, temperature, relative humidity and light regime
  • methodology for assessing and quantifying insect welfare in terms of behavioural expression under mass rearing
  • monitoring protocols for documenting the behaviour of fly larvae and adults

Livestock health and welfare

Inclusion of insects in feed may enhance the immune system of poultry. This may result in a reduction in the use of antibiotics in the poultry industry and contribute to livestock production without risks for human health. Additionally, research suggests that the inclusion of insects in feedstuff reduces stress and feather pecking, improving poultry welfare.

We are investigating:

  • how inclusion of insect products in the feed of broilers and laying hens affects performance parameters such as body weight gain, cumulative feed intake, feed conversion ratio, egg production and egg characteristics
  • how inclusion of live insects or insect meal alters poultry foraging behavior and welfare

Economic robustness

Insects as feed offer the challenging opportunity of designing a novel value chain more or less from scratch. However, any value chain, especially a novel one, is exposed to a variety of risks that can adversely affect its short- and long-term economic viability. Unexpected risky developments (e.g. demand and pricing) should be anticipated. 

We are investigating:

  • set-ups for meat and egg value chains by applying stochastic simulation modelling
  • insights that enable stakeholders to develop, implement and manage such tailor made value chains
  • the basis for maximizing the economic robustness and viability of the newly developed value chain