The European Commission has amended the EU’s feed ban regulation to authorise the use of processed animal proteins derived from insects in poultry and pig feed, hoping to help create a “more sustainable feed chain”, in line with its flagship food policy.
The revision to the regulation was published in the EU’s official journal on 17 August and is expected to enter into force from September, opening two of the most relevant EU animal feed markets, which together represent roughly 65% of the EU compound feed production.
The EU executive announced it as a step “in our journey towards more sustainable feed chain” in line with the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), a flagship EU policy that aims to reshape the environment and climate ambition in European agriculture.
A goal of the F2F is to reduce the dependency on critical feed materials like soja grown on deforested land by fostering EU-grown plant proteins, as well as alternative feed materials such as insects.
The production of insects for animal feed is growing rapidly following the EU authorisation of insect processed animal proteins (PAPs) in aquaculture feedback in July 2017. As such, the aquafeed market is currently the main animal feed market for the producers of insects as feed.
Similarly, following the entry into force of this implementing regulation, the demand for insects as feed is now expected to grow, according to the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF).
As homegrown proteins, insects provide an example of circularity in the management of agricultural resources and also are thought to be better for animals, which naturally have insects as part of their diet.
“Many animals have evolved to develop feeding behaviour that includes insects, which indicates that they are an important part of their nutrition,” IPIFF’s Constantin Muraru told EURACTIV in May 2020.
Supplementing animal diets with insects can help to improve animal welfare too. A recent study showed that adding insects to poultry’s diet can help 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.
The insect-based feed sector hailed this final act in the authorisation process of insect proteins in poultry and pig feed as an instrumental step to accelerating progress on the F2F objectives.
“It will play a role in fostering circularity in food production while improving the sustainability and self-sufficiency of the European livestock sector,” said IPIFF’s President Adriana Casillas.
However, not all agrifood stakeholders welcomed the decision. Campaign group Eurogroup for Animals warned that it could lead to false solutions and distract from the urgent need to transform into sustainable food systems.
Pointing out that the F2F strategy also recognises the urgent need for a shift in European diets towards more plant-based food, the group cautioned that allowing insect protein for feed risks “preserving the status quo of factory farming instead of achieving a dietary shift towards more plant-based diets in combination with higher welfare and sustainable farming systems.”
“We are deeply concerned that insect protein is announced as a sustainable solution to animal feed,” said Reineke Hameleers, CEO of Eurogroup for Animals.
She added that “replacing soy with insects that will be industrially produced on a massive scale to feed factory-farmed pigs and poultry is not the way forward to create sustainable food systems”.
According to her, the decision to authorise the use of insect-derived protein for pig and poultry feed serves to prop up intensive animal production in the EU rather than supporting the transition to a truly sustainable food system.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]