Insects for feed: regulation must keep pace with industry needs, says expert

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Insect

Insects for feed: regulation must keep pace with industry needs, says expert
Logic and legislative frameworks often don’t go hand in hand, says an edible insect expert and academic behind a recent conference looking at the potential of insects as feed and the bottlenecks preventing their exploitation as a protein source.

Professor Arnold van Huis, tropical entomologist from Wageningen University, said the interest in the use of insects for food and feed "is growing exponentially”​ but regulations are lagging behind.

He claims there is a sense of the absurd about the current legislative landscape around insects, which were given the green light for use in feed for aquaculture in June last year but are not permitted for use in pig and poultry feed yet.

“Free roaming chickens eat non-certified insects while we propose to feed them with certified ones.

You are not allowed to slaughter your animals on the farm where you raise them – and as insects are animals, this means you need a slaughter house for insects – it’s a real quandary.

Furthermore, companies wanting to develop insect feed for fish are holding off on scaling up production while waiting for more legislative clarity on the slaughter side,” ​van Huis told FeedNavigator.com

The Dutch researcher was one of the organizers, in tandem with the FAO, of the conference in the Netherlands last week, Insects to Feed the World​, where around 400 international researchers evaluated the opportunities offered by insects for feed and food. 

A representative of the EU Commission’s DG for health and consumers spoke at the event. 

The regulator, said van Huis, did not give a timeline as to when insects might be allowed in poultry feed but did admit that when the total ban on processed animal protein (PAP) in farmed livestock feed was introduced in 2001 amid the BSE crisis, “nobody at the time considered insects,”​ in terms of the prohibition. 

This is an important acknowledgment, said the academic, for campaigners seeking the removal of the remaining regulatory barriers to the wider take up of insect derived protein in feed.

Sustainable source of protein, says FAO

FAO Assistant Director-General Eduardo Rojas-Briales told the delegates that raising insects for livestock diets is an environmentally friendly and efficient way of producing animal feed:

”Insects can be fed on bio-waste, compost and animal slurry, and can transform these into high-quality protein for animal feed.”

Rojas said the international scientific community could make “important contributions by generating the right momentum to overcome the still-existing bottlenecks and to unlock the full potential of insects for food and feed.” 

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. 

Unpublished studies show that at least 50% of fishmeal could be replaced by insect meal in aquaculture, said the Wageningen academic.

“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. 

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