WWF and Tesco: Insect meal could reduce the UK's future soy imports by one fifth if scaled up

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/holydude
© GettyImages/holydude

Related tags Insect meal Tesco WWF Cerrado

Total demand for insect meal from the UK’s pig, poultry and salmon sectors could reach around 540,000 tons a year by 2050, finds a new report from the WWF and UK retailer, Tesco.

Insect meal output at that level in the UK could result in about 16,000 tons of fishmeal and 524,000 tons of soy being replaced – equivalent to one fifth of the UK’s projected soy imports in 2050, or Tesco UK’s entire 2018 soy footprint, according to the publication​.

Replacing soy with viable alternative feeds such as insect protein could help protect important ecosystems like the Brazilian Cerrado, they argue.

The WWF and Tesco are calling on UK policy makers and industry to act urgently to scale up use of alternatives to soy and to support a circular feed system.

This research was commissioned by WWF‑UK and funded through the WWF‑UK and Tesco partnership, which aims to halve the environmental impact of the UK shopping basket. The report was prepared by WWF‑UK, Tesco, ADAS and Michelmores, with input from Multibox and stakeholders across industry.

Deforestation risk 

Cultivation of soy is fueling climate change, deforestation and habitat conversion in several key ecosystems, including the Brazilian Cerrado, where more than 100,000 hectares of precious habitat is lost each year to make way for soy production, said the partners.

In addition to reducing deforestation risk, insect farming has the advantage that many insects are biological waste processors, helping to recycle and decompose material. They can be reared from a vast range of feedstocks, or substrates, and can process surplus food, by-products and other raw materials which might otherwise go to waste, they noted.

Currently, processed insect protein cannot be fed to any farmed livestock intended for human consumption. The EU is set to amend legislation to authorize its use in pig and poultry feed, and the UK could follow suit, they argue. Even though the use of insect meal is permitted within aquaculture, the volumes are currently too low and so prices are high, preventing significant uptake, said the authors.

UK insect industry lagging behind other regions 

This new research suggests around 240,000 tons of insect meal per year could potentially be sourced from UK insect farms. But the growth of the industry in the UK is lagging behind mainland Europe and North America. Some new UK facilities are in construction, but the sector is constrained by several factors, including only a limited number of substrates being authorized for rearing insects which are intended to be used in animal feed, said the parties behind the repot.

WWF and Tesco are calling on the UK government to mandate the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), with input from Food Standards Scotland, to research the potential and regulatory requirements for using additional substrates for insect farming, which could allow a broader range of feedstocks to be used to farm insects.

Tesco is also urging the government to develop financial incentives to support innovative farming methods, such as insect farming, which will support the scale up of these new industries.

And the WWF calls for aquaculture suppliers and retailers to work together to increase demand for insect meal in the UK. 

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