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Insects – filling the protein value gap?

Potential doesn’t become reality without action. The utilisation of insect protein for feedstock in the EU depends on the food business operators and farming sector to advocate strongly for legislative processes that are fit for purpose now (and the future), instead of what conditions they served 20 years ago. Otherwise, we will continue to discuss how useful insect protein could be, instead to taking steps to make it so.

Paul Featherstone
SugaRich
Procurement Director

EVERYBODY IS TALKING ABOUT IT
The discussion around using insect protein to fill the animal feed protein gap has been happening steadily in the background for some time now. There are even reports that well-known brands, such as McDonalds in the US, are exploring the use of insect protein to feed chickens as a more sustainable feedstock source than using soy protein (Reuters).

The use of insect protein as feed is a near perfect circular solution, as the vast amount of food wastes generated can be used to feed and farm insects. The EU currently prohibits the use of animal protein in feed, but a change towards implementing it will depend on proof of viability and tailored legislation to support it.

WHY CONSIDER INSECTS TO FILL THE PROTEIN RICH FEED GAP?
Why should we actively grow insects as livestock? After all, we have managed our livestock and farming industries very well without this practice. The most obvious driver is closing the protein gap – the volume of protein we can provide in the food & feed chain, vs what we actually have. As demand for conventional protein sources grows, our ability to meet it diminishes. The demand for meat and animal products globally is increasing as the pattern of meat consumption shifts in developing countries; the anticipated global consumption rates are projected to double by 2050.

There is already an acknowledged rationale for resourcing additional feed protein using insects; it makes financial and sustainable sense and ties in with other notions that the food sector is working on regarding food losses and how to mitigate them. There is clearly an area of opportunity for using other sources of food waste, potentially those with animal by-products, to be used as a feed stock for insect farms. Such farms grow the larvae on the feed stock, and the food waste provides a growth medium.

Clearly, we don’t want to take viable foodstuffs from the human food chain and utilise them as insect farm feedstock. It would be more sensible to recover what we can from the vast amount of food wastage that we have accumulating throughout the EU. This kind of food waste is a nutritious growth medium, available in consistently large quantities and if blended with other feedstocks, it can be made available easily to the insect sector.

WHY DON’T WE INVESTIGATE AND UPDATE?
Even though a source of viable protein has been identified in the insect sector, the present challenge to realising its utilisation is bound up in the EU animal feed legislation.

EU law currently regards insect proteins as a non-permissible animal by-product and is therefore, presently banned. Yet legislation exists to cover certain specificities regarding insect farming in the EU. EU Regulation No. 1143/2014 restricts the type of insects that can be farmed, prioritising the banning of invasive species that may threaten local biodiversity of ecosystems (along with other animal species). However, to date, it only refers to one insect – the predatory Asian wasp. Other invertebrates are not discussed, therefore omitting the rest of other insects for consideration in other uses.

Therefore, legislation needs to be reviewed in the context of contemporary needs of the wider community and market. If we consider chicken and fish as an example, part of their natural diet consists of ground or airborne insects, so providing them with feedstock that has insect content is not far-fetched by any means. In fact, the insect solution should be considered as a matter of urgency.

I agree wholeheartedly that risk assessments and controls must be in place. However, the legislative process at this time, is somewhat driven by overly arduous risk aversion. There is more focus on the possible negatives around novel solutions than providing quantitative scientific data to enable informed decision making.

Whatever solutions we explore, we know that we don’t want to damage the environment in pursuing or implementing them. For example, destroying rainforests to accommodate vast soya crops is undesirable as it would disrupt ecosystems. We have seen a similar situation with the heavy cultivation of oil palms. Therefore, species-specific protein sourcing for monogastrics is a viable consideration, we certainly don’t want to feed these animals derivatives of their own species – cannibalism is not desirable! However, there isn’t cross contamination in the feed chain between certain animals and fish, as the latter is often used as feed and is addressed in EU regulation 2017/893.

The whole process of using insects as feedstock has to be commercially viable but currently, there is no outlet. There probably won’t be wholesale growth of insects as human food any time soon, so feedstock won’t be recouped from our former foodstuffs for recycling. Instead, it will revolve around directly grown feed potential. However, we must remember that the current legislative platform around viable proteins in animal feed was put in place after the great BSE scare in the 1990s – EU regulation 999/200. It limited animal feed justifiably, by removing meat and bone meal from livestock, pig and chicken feed. But the industry has moved on significantly. As we consider insect proteins being a viable source for the future, regulatory bodies, the food, farming and manufacturing bodies must work together to construct a workable updated legislative framework.

GOING FORWARD
I believe that we should be considering the viability and issues around implementing insect protein, reinforced by a more positive position regarding the legislative platform. Then we can start talking about what feedstock we’re going to use and put measures in place that reduce food losses that have accumulated across EU in the last five years. I cannot reiterate enough that this can only succeed with proactive determination of a workable legal and regulatory framework, before any large-scale changes take place.

Potential doesn’t become reality without action. The utilisation of insect protein for feedstock in the EU depends on the food business operators and farming sector to advocate strongly for legislative processes that are fit for purpose now (and the future), instead of what conditions they served 20 years ago. Otherwise, we will continue to discuss how useful insect protein could be, instead to taking steps to make it so.

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-usa-protein-bugs-insight/insect-farms-gear-up-to-feed-soaring-global-protein-demand-idUKKBN1HK1G0
Dr William Stiles: IBERS, Aberystwyth University, Potential sources of protein for animal feed: Insects

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