With the world population expected to exceed 9.7 billion by 2050, food production needs to increase by 70 percent to meet the demand, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). In Europe, the protein deficit issue is strongly related to the lack of self-sufficiency in the supply of animal feed ingredients (i.e. high protein materials) in order to respond to current meat protein demands.
 

As a result, many countries are looking for locally produced food and feed that won't further pressure our planet and its natural resources. Within this space, new sources of high- protein feed materials such as insects offer great promise. Being mainly produced in the EU, insect proteins can help reducing the dependency on imported sources of proteins for use by European livestock producers as well as improving the resilience and self-sufficiency of our food supply chains.
 

This became even more relevant in the context of the war in Ukraine which is expected to have serious repercussions on the European agri-food sector with long-lasting impacts on food security. So, how is the sector going to meet the growing demand? What can we find already in the market and what to expect in the near future? Throughout this article, we will provide a concise overview of the latest developments regarding the insect-derived feed ingredients and upcoming trends.
 

Sustainability

Its reduced environmental footprint and high efficiency in terms of water and land footprint, all contribute to the sustainability of insect farming. Thanks to the vertical farming techniques implemented, insect farming requires less arable land as insect farmers use 'crates' aligned vertically to rear their insects.
 

Most commonly farmed species are able to absorb the water they need from their substrates. Moreover, insects can also contribute to reducing the burden of food waste, being fed with underused agri-food by-/co-products (e.g. vegetable/fruits/ starch origin) or food no longer destined for human consumption (e.g. unsold products from supermarkets, food products arising from the food manufacturing and being discarded for technical reasons).
 

Thus, the local production of such feed ingredients not only strengthens agri-food circularity - but it also improves regional self-sufficiency.
 

Nutritional advantages

Biologically speaking, insects are not at all new to fish, poultry or swine species: in their natural environment, such animals eat larvae, flies or other insects. In nature, these animals would forage for roots, seeds or insect larvae - characteristics that are also visible in the behaviour of farmed pigs. These 'ingredients' now reappear 'on their plate', contributing directly to animal growth, health and welfare (e.g. stimulating their natural behaviour). Scientific evidence confirms that the incorporation of insects in poultry's diet would reduce aggressive reactions, such as feather pecking (Star et al., 2020). The omnivorous diet of swine species makes them extremely versatile and adaptable.
 

Insect proteins contain all relevant amino acids for animal nutrition - with adequate levels of lysine, threonine, methionine, and tryptophan. In terms of vitamins, the inclusion of insect-derived ingredients may complement the lack of vitamin B12 in ingredients of vegetal origin or in organic farming. Ensuring a balanced diet for such animals – that includes ingredients of both vegetal and non-vegetal origin (insects) is key to ensuring better animal performance and higher productivity.
 

Consumer acceptance
European consumers' attitude around food is gradually changing - while the demand for a high protein targeted nutrition food is growing. As the need for sustainable complementary sources of proteins is increasing, consumers start to show interest in food that has a lower environmental footprint or health benefits, such as insects.


Consumer perception may also change depending on the regional/national availability and accessibility to insect-based products and the different dietary habits across Europe (Such as: flexitarians, organic food consumers or those following a paleo diet are generally paying more attention to sustainable food sourcing and/or to the health effects of what they eat).

 

In terms of animal nutrition, we see higher consumer awareness with respect to the benefits of insects as feed. Such consumers also value that insects are part of the natural diet of farmed animals such as poultry, pigs or carnivorous fish. IPIFF believes that targeted communication towards the consumer- especially on the many advantages (taste, environmental and nutritional) of insects and derived products such as powder and oil is key.
 

EU legislation and recent developments

The market of insects as feed is dynamic and depends on a series of factors. Among these, the regulatory context played an important role in the European Union. Notably, following the authorisation of insect PAPs in aquaculture (i.e. July 2017), the aquafeed market became the main target for feed business operators (FBOs) - i.e.
 

Until then, PAPs could have only been used in pet food or technical (non-food/feed) applications (e.g. production of bio-based fuels, or other bio-based materials such as bioplastics). 2021 was a year of major developments for the European insect sector. Following the positive vote from the EU Member States in April 2021, the Commission Regulation (EU) 2021/1372, formally authorising the use of insect PAPs in pig and poultry feed, entered into force on September 7, 2021.
 

This authorisation opened two of the most relevant EU animal feed markets, which represent circa 65 percent of the EU compound feed production. Following the entry into force of this implementing regulation, the demand for insects as feed is expected to grow, leading to an increase in the production capacity of the sector. The authorisation of insect PAPs in poultry and pig feed will offer new opportunities - starting with the incorporation of such ingredients into the diet of such animals, the subsequent use of insects in organically farmed chicken and pigs, implicitly strengthening partnerships between insect and animal farms.
 

IPIFF estimates that, by the middle of the decade, most of the demand for insect meal will lie in the pet food sector (circa 40-50% of the insect meal produced). Subsequently, the trend noticed after the authorisation of insect PAPs in aquaculture feed should continue - leading to a steady increase (reaching 25-35% in terms of share), stimulated by a growing demand for aquaculture products, such as carnivorous fish (e.g. trout, salmon). According to our forecasts, the next relevant market for insects as feed operators in terms of quantities of insect meal sold will be the poultry (20-30%) and pig markets (5-15%) - that will see a rapid increase following the entry into force of the approval of insect PAPs in 2021.
 

By the end of the decade (light green in the visual above), the market share of insects as feed produced for the aqua feed market may surpass the pet food market. The other animal feed sectors will represent a similar share to the one from 2025 – however, factors such as consumption patterns (e.g. increasing demand for lower footprint meat – such as chicken) and regulatory developments (e.g. how quickly the insect sector will upscale) may influence this distribution.
 

Upscaling - what's coming next?
Following the recent milestones achieved last year from the insect PAPs authorisation in poultry and pig feed, the Novel Food authorisations for edible insects (visit the dedicated webpage at: https://ipiff.org/insects-novel-food-eu-legislation-2/) and the developments of standards for insect frass, IPIFF is committed in unlocking new opportunities for the European insect farmers.

 

Future possibilities such as the diversification of the inputs authorised as insect substrates (what insects eat) could upscale the insect farming sector. Indeed, up to a third of the food waste generated presently in the EU may be used as insect substrate - before it is classified as 'waste'. Currently, by-/co-products from grains, starch, fruit and vegetable supply chains products are authorised as substrates for insects.
 

In the future, the possible authorisation of former foodstuffs containing meat and fish and catering waste would play a key role in upcycling the production capacity of the sector. IPIFF is discussing with the European Commission services on building/collecting scientific evidence which would allow the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to confirm that the use of these materials as feed for insects to entail safety risks.
 

In parallel, our organisation supports the objectives of the EU Organic Action Plan in achieving at least 25 percent of the EU's agricultural land under organic farming by 2030 and a significant increase in organic aquaculture, in line with the 'Farm to Fork' strategy. Locally produced feed and food ingredients, such as insects and fertilising products compatible with the concept of organic farming, such as insect frass, could provide farmers with all the necessary tools and instruments that would allow them to convert to organic systems.
 

Moreover, the recent regulatory developments, mentioned above, would contribute to develop EU organic standards for insect farming unlocking its full potential towards a more sustainable food system. Indeed, thanks to the recent PAPs authorisation, insect PAPs may be used up to five percent in the feed ratio of organically produced chicks and piglets.
 

Note from the editor:
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Article contributed by Alice Grassi, Communication Manager and Christophe Derrien, Secretary-General, International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF), Bruxelles, Belgium.

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