Fish and poultry feed topped the charts in terms of most likely livestock sectors to use insect derived protein, followed by pig feed, and to a lower extent pet food and cattle feed, found the research team, based at Ghent University’s Faculty of Bioscience Engineering.
The authors noted use of processed animal protein (PAP) from non-ruminant animals, including insects, was re-authorized for feeding farmed fish under EU regulation as of June 2013 and that an extension of that ruling to pig and poultry feed might be considered this year.
According to their findings, published in Animal Feed Science and Technology, insect feed was perceived to be more sustainable and to have a better nutritive value for animals but a lower microbiological safety as compared to conventional feed.
Benefits and risks
And benefit perception was generally stronger than risk perception, said the authors.
They reported the strongest perceived benefits of using insects in feed pertained to lowering the EU livestock industry’s dependence on foreign protein sources and better use of organic waste.
The perceived risks, generally, were about possible impacts on biodiversity in case of accidental release of non-native insects and about the introduction of microbiological hazards in the food chain, they added.
The potential of insects, both as food and in feed as an alternative to fishmeal, fish oil and soymeal, has been widely acknowledged recently, with the Belgian research team citing the 2013 report ‘Edible insects’ published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in this regard.
That report recognized that, despite the large potential of insects, insect rearing for food and feed remains a sector in its infancy and key future challenges will likely emerge as the field evolves.
The Ghent-based researchers said one such challenge pertains to future marketplace acceptance - the prompt, thus, for this study.
“While feed companies in the Netherlands have committed to include insects in their livestock feed and have everything in place to take off as soon as EU legislation allows them to do so, little is known about the reactions of farmers, stakeholders and citizen/consumers towards the use of insects in animal feed.
Such reactions are likely to determine the future success of using insect based feed for different species,” said the authors.
They carried out the survey in January this year in Flanders, the northern Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, which has a highly specialized intensive livestock farming industry accounting for 6.15 million pigs, 30.75 million units of poultry, and 1.25 million units of cattle – both dairy and beef.
Participants were recruited from the visitors of a Flemish agricultural fair involving exhibitors covering all main sectors of agriculture, including feed and feed additives, and attracting about 80,000 visitors, said the team.
They interviewed 196 farmers as well as 137 stakeholders from diverse sectors linked to agriculture, covering the animal feed and livestock sector industries, as well as government, consultancy, finance and research institutions. In addition, they said 82 visitors who indicated to be neither directly nor indirectly involved in agriculture took part in the poll.
Participants had to complete an electronic survey in relation to their attitudes, product attribute beliefs, perceived benefits, risks and concerns, and willingness to accept and use insect derived animal feed.
The authors reported that the idea of using insects in animal feed was rejected by only 17% of those polled.
‘Findings indicate momentum for change’
This finding corresponds with the insights from the baseline PROteINSECT survey of October 2013 to March 2014, which found that a similar proportion of a sample of 1,302 participants with diverse backgrounds believed that ‘larvae of flies are a suitable source of protein for use in animal feed.’
But the Ghent authors concluded: “Farmers in general and livestock farmers with ruminants in particular, were more critical towards the use of insects in animal feed than agriculture sector stakeholders or citizens. This is consistent with the farmers’ weaker perception of benefits and stronger perception of risks associated with the use of insects in animal feed.”
Livestock products from animals fed insect derived feed were perceived to be more sustainable, nutritious and healthy, but at risk of presence of off-flavors and allergens, and less easily marketable, found the team.
Eggs and poultry meat from animals fed on insect-based diets were rejected by 17% of the study sample; beef and milk from cattle fed on insect-based diets were rejected by 25% of participants.
The authors concluded the findings of this study “indicate a positive atmosphere and momentum for change towards the adoption of insects as a new ingredient in animal feed.”
Source: Animal Feed Science and Technology
Published online ahead of print: doi:10.1016/j.anifeedsci.2015.04.001
Title: Insects in animal feed: Acceptance and its determinants among farmers, agriculture sector stakeholders and citizens
Authors: W. Verbeke, T. Spranghers, P. De Clercq, S. De Smet, B. SAS, and M. Eeckhout