Bugs to the rescue: using insects as animal feed could cut deforestation – report

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Insect protein in animal feed could replace 20% of the UK’s soya consumption by 2050, according to a report by WWF.

The study, which sets out a plan for the UK to accelerate the adoption of insect protein in animal feed, also found that just under half of the demand for the protein could be met by British producers.

Soya has become a key ingredient of animal feed but rising demand for the crop has been linked to deforestation in South America.

More than 1m tonnes of soya used by UK livestock farmers in 2019 could have been linked to deforestation, according to estimates.

Mollie Gupta, WWF forest commodities manager, said the findings quantified for the first time the benefits of insect protein for the UK. “We’ve been looking at insect protein as an alternative to soya for 18 months. We always thought it had huge potential but to say that it will be able to reduce up to a fifth of our soya imports was huge.”

Fulfilling this potential will require overcoming major hurdles, chief among them legislation. There is a double legislative burden because animal feed regulation affects what they can be fed, and what they can then be fed to.

Insect protein is restricted to use in pet food and aquafeed, where it mostly competes with fishmeal, another unsustainable protein source.

The report calls on government to permit insect protein in pig and poultry feed, which rely heavily on soya. This will open up the market for the protein and enable increased production; the EU will approve the use of insects in pig and poultry feed this summer.

The need for legislation to broaden the range of feedstocks that can be used to farm insects, including products containing meat and fish, such as food surplus from manufacturing, is also explored in the report.

Keiran Olivares Whitaker, founder of Entocycle, an insect company aiming to become the UK’s first commercial black soldier fly facility this year, said the UK has “a real opportunity to shape the legislation now and [become] a world-leader in sustainable insect protein, attracting investment and talent from around the world”.

Gupta said it was also important for government to support insect production in the same way it subsidises other farming activities or industries, such as anaerobic digestion, which directly competes for feedstock like plants and food waste. This would help to bring the cost of insect protein in line with fishmeal in the short term, and soyameal in the longer term, she predicted.

The report also highlighted the role the retail sector could play by encouraging the use of insect protein in animal feed in their supply chain and educating consumers about the benefits. French supermarket Auchan already sells insect-fed trout, while Dutch supermarkets sell Oerei eggs laid by hens fed black soldier fly larvae.

Tesco, which worked on the report with WWF, has provided seed funding to Entocycle and introduced AgriGrub, another black soldier fly startup, to some of its suppliers to help it source feedstock and run product trials with frass [insect manure].

“We want to encourage alternative feed ingredients such as insects, albeit in small volumes initially, but there is a clear aim on our behalf to move in this direction,” said Ashwin Prasad, chief product officer at Tesco. “There is an opportunity to get on the front foot and talk about insect meal as a more positive feed ingredient, and we have seen retailers in France, for example, doing that.”

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