If the costs of insect animal feedstock could be brought down by automated production techniques, it would become a serious alternative to products such as soy feed protein for chicken and pigs, said Professor Arnold van Huis, a tropical entomologist from Wageningen University. It could also be used as a replacement for fishmeal in aquaculture as fish stocks and fish feed becomes increasingly scarce and expensive.
Speaking at the Food Vision conference in Cannes earlier this week (Wednesday April 2), van Huis also noted that for technical reasons, insects provided a better feedstock for fish than plant-based protein alternatives.
Van Huis suggested that the use of insects as animal feed would prove more acceptable in the western world in the short term than as a protein for human consumption. But he argued for far greater consumption of insects in the human diet across the globe as obstacles – both cost and regulatory – were overcome.
Automated production techniques
He announced that the European Commission was just about to approve the use of insects for feeding to pigs and chickens across the EU. And he added that emerging automated production techniques would bring down costs significantly.
“DG Sanco is really thinking about it and we believe that very soon it will be allowed to be fed, not to ruminants, but to pigs and sheep,” said van Huis.
Unpublished studies also showed that at least 50% of fishmeal could be replaced by insect meal in aquaculture, he added. But he pointed out that other legislative barriers would need to be overcome before this could happen. “Insects are also animals, so we will need a slaughterhouse for insects,” he said.
Already several species of insects were being grown on waste around the world, said van Huis. “You can grow these insects on manure and end up with a high protein product,” he said. “Since June 1 last year it’s allowed to be used in aquaculture. That’s quite important because aquaculture is growing by about 9% a year.
Looking for alternatives
Van Huis added: “Half of all our fish is more or less cultured right now so they normally use fishmeal as feed, but because of over exploitation that is getting extremely scarce and expensive so they are really looking for alternatives.
“For pigs and poultry it is not allowed yet in the EU but we expect probably within half a year that this will be allowed also.”
One of the insect varieties that could be used for aquaculture is a house fly, which is already being produced on a large scale by a South African company in a product known as MagMeal, said van Huis. “The advantage is it grows in just three days,” he said. “But if you really want to promote it, we have to farm it.”
The main obstacle to its more widespread use as a feedstock at the moment is the cost. Because production is very labour intensive, the cost works out at about euro 4.75/kg (£3.92/kg), said van Huis. “So this has to be mechanised.”
The price would need to be reduced to about euro 1/kg (£0.83/kg) to be competitive, he said. “A number of companies in Europe have already sorted out how to automate the whole system, so I think it can be competitive.” One idea could be to grow the insects on food waste, he added.