EU lets farm animals and humans eat insects

FIT WAS FIRST pets, then fish. Now it’s poultry and pigs. The list of animals allowed to feed on insects is growing. A new EU The law allowing the use of insect protein in poultry and pig feed came into effect earlier this month, a milestone for an industry keen to break into the animal feed business.

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Since the ban on processed animal proteins in 2001 following the “mad cow” crisis, soybeans and fishmeal have become the basis of animal feed in Europe. But their production takes a lot of space and can be harmful to the environment, which is why animal feed manufacturers are looking for alternatives.

Bugs are just the ticket. They are raised on vertical farms that require little land or water, and they can be fed agricultural byproducts or food waste such as rotten fruits and vegetables. They are also a natural fit. Most wild fish, birds and pigs eat insects.

The only thing against them is the price: insect protein is two to three times more expensive than fishmeal, and several times more expensive than soy. Increasing production can help reduce the disparity. Rabobank, a Dutch lender, predicts that global insect production will reach 500,000 tonnes per year by 2030, compared to just 10,000 tonnes now, and that prices will fall.

The insect companies have worked hard on their business case. Research suggests that insects can be more than just food, increasing growth rates and the immune system as well as filling the stomachs. They also offer the prospect of a green, local protein.

Poultry and pig feed are by far the biggest animal feed markets, but they are more competitive than pet or fish feed. This is why, says Antoine Hubert, CEO Ÿnsect, a firm mealworm (beetle larvae), the insect protein is likely to be used only in high quality meat initially.

This year, the European Food Safety Agency ruled that three species of insects (the yellow mealworm, locusts and house crickets) are also safe for humans. Oddly enough, people seem less enthusiastic about the idea than chickens and pigs.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “The Life of an Insect”

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