Why are alternative proteins needed?
The production of crops for animal feed is having a considerable impact on the environment in several important growing regions around the world. Animal feed currently uses around 75% of soy produced, but cultivation of the crop is fuelling climate change, deforestation and habitat conversion in several key ecosystems. In the Brazillian Cerrado, for example, more than 100,000 hectares of precious habitat is lost each year to make way for soy production.
As the global population continues to grow, so does demand for meat and fish products in our diets. This further drives the market for animal feed ingredients, putting further pressure on ecosystems. Alternative novel proteins are being explored to help meet this demand and mitigate against further destruction of the natural environment. Insect farming is one of several options that could contribute to the solution.
Insect protein as a novel and sustainable feed ingredient
The research presented in the WWF-UK report highlights the huge potential for insect farming in helping to tackle the climate and nature crisis.
In addition to reducing deforestation risk, insect farming has the advantage that many insects are biological waste processors, helping to recycle and decompose material.
Insects can be reared from a vast range of feedstocks, or substrates, and can process surplus food, by-products and other raw materials which might otherwise go to waste, therefore supporting a circular economy.
The research estimates that projected total demand for insect meal from the UK’s pig, poultry and salmon sectors could reach around 540,000 tonnes a year by 2050, legislation permitting. This could result in about 16,000 tonnes of fishmeal and 524,000 tonnes of soy being replaced.
Around 150,000 hectares of land is required to produce this amount of soy annually, almost the size of Greater London. Using insect meal to feed fish and livestock could therefore cut the UK’s future soy footprint by a fifth, or Tesco UK’s entire 2018 soy footprint!
Potential growth of the UK insect protein market
Currently, processed insect protein cannot be fed to any farmed livestock intended for human consumption. The European Union is expected to amend legislation to permit its use in pig and poultry feed in the next few years, and the UK could follow suit. Whilst the use of insect meal is already permitted within aquaculture, the volumes produced are currently too low and prices are high, preventing significant uptake.
This new research suggests around 240,000 tonnes of insect meal per year could potentially be sourced from UK insect farms, though growth of the industry in the UK is lagging behind mainland Europe and North America. Some new UK facilities are in construction, but the sector is constrained by several factors, including only a limited number of substrates being authorised for rearing insects which are intended to be used in animal feed.
Next steps to enable scaling of insect protein production in the UK
WWF and Tesco are calling on the UK government to mandate the Food Standards Agency, with input from Food Standards Scotland, to research the potential and regulatory requirements for using additional substrates for insect farming, which could allow a broader range of feedstocks to be used to farm insects.
Tesco is also urging the government to develop financial incentives to support innovative farming methods, such as insect farming, which will support the scale up of these new industries. WWF calls for aquaculture suppliers and retailers to work together to increase demand for insect meal, supporting the move away from a feed system that drives the destruction of nature.
Background to the research
The research was commissioned by WWF-UK and funded through the WWF-UK and Tesco partnership, which aims to halve the environmental impact of the UK shopping basket.
The report published today (‘The Future of Feed: a WWF roadmap to accelerating insect protein in UK feeds’) was prepared by WWF-UK, Tesco, ADAS, and Michelmores, with input from Multibox and stakeholders across industry. The report was designed by RSK.
This summarises an extensive Supporting Technical Report (‘Development of a roadmap to scale up insect protein production in the UK for use in animal feed’), prepared solely by ADAS and Michelmores, with input from Multibox.
The team, led by Charles Ffoulkes, Associate Director – ADAS Climate & Sustainability, incorporated insight and feedback from a vast range of technical specialists and stakeholders to understand the barriers facing the industry and identify actions to overcome these challenges.
For more information
For further information on any of the above, please contact Charles Ffoulkes.
ADAS provides specialist advice and strategic evaluation of food chain sustainability, alternative proteins and solutions for reducing climate impact. Visit our Sustainability Solutions webpage to find out more.
For support in the professional design of communication materials, please visit Creative RSK.