The EU Commission has voted to allow insect-derived protein as aquaculture feed.
Existing legislation - Regulation (EC) No 999/2001, or the 'TSE Regulation', created to prevent the transmission of diseases like CJD and BSE - banned the use of processed animal proteins (PAPs) to feed animals, including fish.
An amendment to the regulation, approved by the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF), will remove the final barrier to using insects in fish feed in the EU - the need for non-ruminant animals to be used in PAPs to be slaughtered in registered EU slaughterhouses – meaning that insect proteins could be used as fish feed from July 2017.
Aquaculture products have become the world’s fastest growing animal food producing sector, expected to grow by more than 20% to 2030. Is this an indicator of increasing focus on sourcing sustainable protein to feed fish?
Recently, several studies have highlighted the sustainability benefits of insects as animal feed. Already a natural source of food for pigs, poultry and many fish species, insects have a high protein and nutrient content and a good feed conversion rate. Their use could also cut-down the depletion of wild fish stocks commonly used in fishmeal.
The EU’s new legislation could reduce its high dependence on imports of protein-rich animal feed, such as soy, giving the EU greater security, and potentially self-sufficiency, in feed protein.
It is already driving greater investment in the insect protein industry. Following the decision, French producer Ynsect announced an additional $15.2m to develop its robotics-enabled insect farm, which is also the world’s largest. If Ynsect successfully automate the process, previously constrained by cost-intensive labour requirements, and if some of the 200-odd start-ups in this space reach scale, then perhaps insect farming could provide an economically viable and sustainable solution to animal feed. There may even be the potential for farmers to rear insects on their own farms.
With house fly larvae providing a protein profile more comparable to fishmeal than plant-based protein sources, and fishmeal prices currently five times that of soymeal, there is significant economic incentive to use insect meal in animal feed.
Using this positive momentum, lobbying group IPIFF (the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed) may seek to extend this amendment to allow insect protein to be fed to other non-ruminant animals including pigs and poultry.
Adoption of insect PAPs as fish feed could also positively contribute to reducing a significant waste stream within the EU. Fish feed currently generates 88 million tonnes of biodegradable organic waste and as much as 1.4 billion tonnes of manure each year. Rearing insects for fish feed on organic waste could present a potential solution. For example, fly larvae can reduce the mass of organic waste by up to 60% in 10 days, whilst extracting protein.
However, current regulations consider insects reared for PAPs as ‘farmed animals’ and so are prohibited from being fed on organic waste. Though an assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirms that insect PAPs reared on currently allowed feed do not pose any additional microbiological hazard compared to other animal sources of protein, further research is needed to establish the safety of rearing insects on organic waste, before this system change can be implemented.
What other obstacles do you see to scaling insects as animal feed? What else is needed to overcome them?