EU law currently prohibits the inclusion of protein derived from insects in animal feed.
An exception to that ruling is feed intended for fish or shellfish, which was given the green light from regulators back in June 2013.
But Professor Arnold van Huis from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, presenting at the Food Vision conference in Cannes last week, said that the EU Commission’s DG for Health and Consumers (DG Sanco) is really set on getting approval for the use of insect protein in chicken and pig feed.
He told FeedNavigator.com yesterday that a member of the Dutch government recently indicated an approval timeframe of six months to a year for the use of insects in non-ruminant diets.
A representative of DG Sanco will be speaking at an event on edible insects in the Netherlands next month that van Huis is organizing, along with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and he said he expects to confirm the regulatory timeline then.
The conference Insects to Feed the World is taking place in Wageningen on May 17-19.
However, Elaine Fitches, who is coordinator of an EU-funded research project on insects as a feed source - PROteINSECT – expressed surprise that approval would be so soon.
“As far as I am aware, there have been no major steps forward to approving insects for use in animal feed,” she said.
She told this publication, in February, that given “the amount of research that is projected to be done over the next two years there should be a baseline of safety information and evidence of efficacy on insect protein then to give EU regulators the platform needed to make an informed decision on its use in pigs and poultry as well as fish."
Sustainable feed source
Food security concerns have highlighted a need to find more sustainable sources of protein for use in animal feed and insects are increasingly being recognized as a potential substitute.
One of the major advantages of insects as a protein source is that they can be reared successfully and quickly on a range of organic waste materials, reducing the volume of that waste in the process by up to 60 percent, said the FAO.
Insects with the largest immediate potential for large-scale feed production are larvae of the black soldier fly, the common housefly and the yellow mealworm – but other insect species are also being looked at for this purpose, said van Huis.
“Researchers are also looking at the immunity boosting aspect of chitin – a principal constituent of the exoskeleton of insects – in feed for poultry, which in turn could reduce the dependency on antibiotics in that livestock sector,” he added.
Scale of production
But barriers such as a lack of a regulatory framework, limited risk assessment methods and labor intensive production are holding back industry investment, said van Huis.
There are a few producers in the US, Canada and South Africa that are rearing large quantities of flies for aquaculture, and there are some initiatives in Europe but these are on a pilot scale and targeted at the research sector, said van Huis.
At present, he said, the scale of current production cannot compete with conventional feed and food sources and so there needs to be increased innovation in mechanization, automation, processing and logistics to bring production costs to a level comparable with other feed and food sources.