The Consensus Business Case Report provides an evidence base to support discussions as the regulatory process for assessing the use of insect protein in livestock and fish feed continue in Europe. It also highlights a number of areas that need to be addressed, principally the lack of available safety and quality data.
“The report shows that fly larvae offer a highly nutritional source of protein, ideal for use in animal feed, but also that a significant amount of research and technology development is required, along with regulatory approval, to make it a commercial reality,” Elaine Fitches, coordinator of the EU-funded PROteINSECT project, told FeedNavigator.
The report gives an overview of the commercial insect rearing ventures that exist both within and outside Europe. Agriprotein, a South African company established in 2009, is considered the world leader in the mass production of fly larvae. European players include PROtix Biosystems BV in the Netherlands, Spanish spin-out Bioflytech, Ynsect in France and Hermetia in Germany.
However, Fitches said that EU market development was being stunted by the current legislative landscape.
“IPIFF (the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed) say they are ready to go; they are already producing for the pet food industry and are lobbying to push the regulatory authorities forward,” she said.
The road to regulatory approval
The report is intended to “provide a stepping stone” to the White Paper that is to be presented by the PROteINSECT project to the European Parliament in late 2015. Prior to this, PROteINSECT is hoping for a positive Opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which has been charged with assessing the safety risks arising from production of insects for feed.
Fitches confirmed that this Opinion was expected to be published in September, and would then be used as a basis by the European Commission’s DG Sanco to consider whether a change in regulation is needed.
She is optimistic that EU regulators will rule in favor of the pro-insect feed lobby, saying “it should be a goal rather than a stop”.
As part of the PROteINSECT project, several insect production systems with varying capacities have been developed and optimized in China, Africa and the UK. Initial results summarized in the report indicate that production processes are too labor and energy intensive, transport rearing substrate costs are constraining factors and substrates need to be of a consistent quality.
“The PROteINSECT systems still need improvement along the lines described above before becoming economically viable,” wrote the report’s authors.
Following evaluation work carried out by PROteINSECT, the report identifies solvent extraction as the most efficient processing method, despite challenges such as ensuring that the protein extract does not contain residues.
Fitches said that the co-extraction products of this method were also a focus area for the project and key to ensuring commercial viability.
“Chitin is a modified sugar that gets co-extracted with the proteins and has a range of uses in industry. Meanwhile some companies are selling the residues as fertilizers. We’ll be doing more reporting on the extraction process, compositions of insect proteins and yields,” she said.
Shortage of safety and quality data
There is a need for additional data in several areas, including nutritional quality and safety, according to the report.
Fitches said that PROteINSECT was addressing this knowledge gap, with feeding trials for poultry, pigs and fish starting this month [August] in Belgium.
“This will add to the body of information about what impacts the incorporation of insect meal has on animal and fish nutrition. We are pretty confident that the outcome will be positive,” she said.
She added that the project would also be generating more information about chemical, allergy and microbiological risks through risk assessments.
Publicity job to be done
The reports highlights the need for more information about the potential use of insect protein in animal feed to be made available to the public.
“What really came through in the report was the need for more information to be put out there. Even though there is a lot of research going on, people don’t know anything about insects as a feed source,” said Fitches.
Ultimately, she said public acceptance of the use of insect protein in animal feed will be vital to the development of a successful insect protein market within Europe.
Surveys carried out by PROteINSECT and Ghent University so far have suggested that people are generally accepting of the idea of insect protein in feed and food. A second PROteINSECT-led consumer perception survey is currently underway, and Fitches expects this to give an even clearer picture of public opinion.
“This will be a key output of the project. No-one has gone out and asked the public what they think - it will give us a good idea of what people think about insect-source protein,” said Fitches.