Insect-based feedstuffs hold ‘enormous potential’ for EU sustainability goals

Although there has recently been quite a buzz about the potential that insects hold as a food product for human consumption, much less attention has been devoted to the role insects could play as animal feed [SHUTTERSTOCK]

With the long-awaited Farm to Fork strategy due to be unveiled in the coming days, EURACTIV took a look at the potential insect-based food and feedstuffs hold for contributing to the goals of the strategy and creating a more self-reliant, sustainable food system in the EU.

The draft version of the Farm to Fork strategy, which is expected to be officially presented on 20 May, highlights that it will support the creation of “sustainable and novel feed materials and food,” listing insects as one such potential innovation.

“To reduce the environmental and climate impact of animal production, the Commission will facilitate the placing on the market of innovative feed additives that help reduce the carbon footprint, water and air pollution and methane emission of livestock farming” the draft reads.

It also explicitly mentioned insects, saying it will “examine EU rules to foster the replacement of critical feed materials (e.g. soya from deforested land) by more sustainable feed materials such as insects.”

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EURACTIV spoke to Constantin Muraru from the international platform of insects for food and feed (IPIFF), an EU non-profit organisation which represents the interests of the insect production sector.

He emphasised that although there has recently been quite a buzz about the potential that insects hold as a food product for human consumption, much less attention has been devoted to the role insects could play as animal feed, something he says has “enormous potential.”

“Currently, the EU is heavily reliant on the importation of feedstuffs, but the disruption in the past few months with the coronavirus outbreak has made it increasingly apparent that we must look to make our agriculture more self-sustainable,” he said.

“Insects can be produced locally and are a highly nutritious, protein-rich foodstuff that can be produced in high quantities in a small area,” he said, adding that this helps to improve both the self-sufficiency and the resilience of food systems.

Furthermore, he highlighted the role that insects can play in the creation of a circular economy, namely by upcycling former foodstuffs into valuable ingredients for the agri-food chains.

According to a position paper published by IPIFF, up to a third of the food waste generated today, or around 20 million tonnes, could be suitable for use in insect farming.

This could help reduce the food waste burden in the EU, thereby maximising the efficiency of food chains.

Are Europeans ready for an insect-based diet?

While insect-based foods have so far been quite a niche product, they are viewed as a highly promising solution to the challenges facing the food industry. Although new EU regulations should pave the way for these products – European eating habits might have to change too. EURACTIV Germany reports.

However, the use of insects in foodstuffs for animals is currently limited, given that is is currently not authorised for certain livestock, such as poultry and pigs. This is despite the fact that insects commonly feature naturally in the diets of many farmed animals, such as fish and poultry.

“Many animals have evolved to develop feeding behaviour that includes insects, which indicates that they are an important part of their nutrition,” Muraru said.

There is also a growing body of evidence showing that supplementing animal diets with insects can help to dramatically improve animal welfare.

One recent study showed that adding insects to the diet of poultry can help to reduce the incidence of ‘feather pecking’ behaviour, i.e. when one bird pecks or pulls at the feathers of another, which is a common issue with commercially raised chickens.

Muraru also stressed that insect protein could also be an important local feedstuff which could support the expansion of the organic sector, whose promotion is expected to feature heavily in the Farm to Fork strategy.

“Insects could definitely help support the organic sector and help support a more natural diet for farmed animals,” he said, adding that it can even be easier to have certifiably organic insects “given that they are grown in controlled conditions with close monitoring than some other feedstuffs.”

However, this is hindered by the fact that insects for animal feed cannot get organic certification now.

“We hope in the future to be able to be certified as organic and help contribute to the organic sector, although for now, the biggest hurdle is to be authorised for use in conventional farming,” Muraru said.

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