Insect meal in aquaculture – a move towards sustainable protein in animal feed?

From 1 July 2017, amendments to current EU regulations, which for many years have effectively prohibited the feeding of processed animal proteins to animals intended for human consumption, were amended to permit insect meal to be used as feed in aquaculture.

EU legislation has strictly prohibited the use of processed animal protein (excepthydrolysed animal protein), including insect meal, in feed for animals kept, fattened, or bred for the production of food. Current EU legislation regarding the use of processed animal protein in feed for farmed animals is very much a product of the BSE crises.

In 2013, the EU passed a regulation which introduced the exception of non-ruminant processed animal protein in aquaculture feed. Until now, despite this development, it has not been practically possible to incorporate processed insect protein in aquaculture feed, because of a final barrier; the so-called ‘slaughter- house provision’. This was an EC regulation, which required animal by-products, used for the production of processed animal protein, to be derived from a registered slaughterhouse; a provision that was not feasible for insects.

It is anticipated that this move signifies a significant step in animal feed, towards developing insect meal as a sustainable alternative to protein derived from soybean. Current industry practices rely heavily on grain, in particular on imported soy from South America, as a source of protein; a practice not considered to be either sustainable or environmentally responsible in the long term.

Demand for insect protein

According to PROteINSECT, a project co-financed by the European Commission to investigate fly larvae as an alternative protein source for rearing fish, chickens and pigs, 80% of protein requirements for livestock feed in the EU is imported from outside of the EU. With the global demand for meat products expected to continue to rise considerably, there will inevitably be substantial pressure on feed manufacturers to increase production.

Both the United Nations and the European Union have publicised research and position papers on the need for a sustainable and environmentally responsible feed industry. Furthermore, there is now scientific research and industry support for the role that insect meal will play in the future of the feed industry.

Benefits of insect protein

The benefits of using insect meal from an environmental and sustainable perspective are clear and include:

  • the high feed conversion rate of insects (for example, crickets can convert 2KG of feed into 1KG of protein, compared with cattle which require 8KG of feed to produce 1KG of protein)
  • lower greenhouse gas emissions
  • the ability of insects to feed on organic waste and be able to convert waste into high quality protein

In addition, arable land currently used to grow crops for animal feed could in the future be used to grow food for human consumption. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates that 33% of arable land is currently used to produce feed for use in livestock production.

Research undertaken by AB Agri, in conjunction with the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), has demonstrated that insect meal is comparable with fish meal in terms of its amino acid content. The paper also records that some insect protein is equivalent or superior to soybean protein as a source of essential amino acids.

Developing use of insect  protein

Industry leaders are already investing heavily in developing the technology to produce insects on a commercial scale for use in feed. Outside of the EU there are already established industry leaders forging ahead with the use of insects as feed ingredients.

In 2016, PROteINSECT produced a White Paper, ‘Insect Protein- Feed for the Future’, which recommended a review of insect protein legislation to address the EU protein deficiency. It is thought that further amendments to EU regulations to permit the use of insect meal in poultry farming and eventually in feed for pigs and other livestock will be considered in the near future.

The impact of Brexit

UK legislation enacted as a result of an EU directive will continue in force in the UK regardless of Brexit until such legislation is repealed or amended. In theory, EU Regulations, which have direct application in the UK, would cease to apply if the UK was no longer part of the EU. However, many UK based farming businesses will continue to trade within the EU and will need to meet the EU standards of food production.

Legislation governing food and feed production is voluminous and complex. Those looking to take advantage of pioneering developments in protein sources for feed must understand and comply with a minefield of EU and UK legislation, the majority of which was not originally intended to capture insects.

For more information please contact Rachel O'Connor on Rachel.O'connor@michelmores.com or 0117 906 9308.