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Comprehensive study points to insects as viable ingredient in animal feed, calls for review of current EU rules

Following a comprehensive three-year multi-institutional study, researchers are calling for a review of EU legislation that currently prohibits the use of insects as a protein source in animal feed. Among other results, their study found that common house fly larvae can be used to replace up to 50% of fish meal without affecting fish performance or proximate compositions of the whole body of Atlantic salmon parr.

May 19, 2016


Following a comprehensive three-year multi-institutional study, a consortium of researchers is calling for a review of EU legislation that currently prohibits the use of insects as a protein source in animal feed.

Increasing global populations and changing diets have led to the urgent need for additional supplies of sustainable protein. The European Union is already reliant on importing 70% of the protein needed for animal feed, and faces added competition for protein ingredients from a global population that is set to exceed nine billion by 2050. Furthermore, developing nations are consuming animal products at an increased rate, and the rapidly growing aquaculture industry is demanding more protein for aquatic feeds.

In an effort to address the growing challenge, PROteINSECT experts from Europe. China, and Africa spent the last three years investigating the potential for using insects - specifically fly larvae - as alternative and additional innovative protein sources. Insects are rich in protein and are a natural component of the diets of many fish and free-range poultry.

Fly larvae can be reared on a wide range of wastes and by-products, offering a way of recovering value from materials that may traditionally be disposed of by agriculture and food industries. The biological reprocessing of organic waste is a key concept of PROteINSECT research into the use of insect protein in animal feed. Insects are not only able to provide the potential to extract protein from waste material but also facilitate significant reductions in waste volume. Researchers found that fly larvae can reduce the mass of organic waste by up to 60% in 10 days. Considering that the EU generates 88 million tonnes of biodegradable organic waste and as much as 1.4 billion tonnes of manure each year, these results are welcome.

As part of the project, fish, poultry, and pig feeding trials were conducted by PROteINSECT in 2015 in Europe (Belgium and UK) using on PROteINSECT UK derived insect protein. These trials evaluated weight gain and growth rates, as well as segment specific factors such as survival rates in Atlantic salmon parr. The fish feeding trials were conducted on 3,600 Atlantic salmon parr over an eight week period and the results indicated that common house fly larvae can provide a suitable meal which can be used to replace up to half of the fish meal without affecting fish performance or proximate compositions of the whole body of parr.

Researchers found that house fly larvae contain relatively high levels of key amino acids such as methionine and lysine, providing a protein profile that is more comparable to fishmeal than plant based protein sources.

Results also found that defatted insect meal has potential to replace more than 50% of fish meal in salmon parr diets. As fishmeal prices are currently five times that of soyameal this adds significant economic incentive for the use of insect meal in animal feed. Additional nutritional components that add value to insect products include fats/oils and vitamins & minerals.

The project working group believes that Europe has an opportunity to significantly contribute to its own protein needs by growing insects on organic waste for use in animal feed, and in conclusion has recommended the review of two EU Regulations that prohibit the use of insects as a source of protein for animal feed for animals raised for human consumption (Regulation EC 999/2001) and the farming of insects on manure or catering waste (Regulation EC 1069/2009).

Comprehensive analysis to determine levels of chemical and biological hazards in insect larvae reared on organic wastes from samples produced by PROteINSECT partners in the UK, Ghana, Mali and China was presented to the European Food Safety Authority, which in turn released the EFSA scientific assessment of the possible use of insects in feed. The assessment states that when currently allowed feed materials are used to feed insects, the possible occurrence of any microbiological hazards are expected to be comparable to other sources of protein of animal origin and should not pose any additional risk compared to other feeds. The assessment does highlight the need for additional evidence and evaluation of the use of other (currently forbidden) substrates to feed insects destined for animal feed, such as organic wastes (food waste and manures).

What is PROteINSECT?

PROteINSECT is a three year (2013-2016) EU-funded FP7 project enabling the exploitation of insects as a sustainable source of protein for animal feed and human nutrition (PROteINSECT Grant Agreement Number: 312084). PROteINSECT brought together expertise from China, Africa and Europe to encourage and enable the adoption of fly larval protein in animal feed around the world. The PROteINSECT project consortium has 12 partners from seven countries and is co-ordinated by Fera Science Ltd in the United Kingdom

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