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

Adopting insect protein in pig and poultry feed could reduce UK soya imports by a fifth by 2050, says WWF study

Insect protein in animal feed could replace 20% of the UK’s soya imports 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, a black soldier fly company planning to expand 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.”

• This article was amended on 1 July 2021. An earlier version said insect protein could reduce soya consumption; the report refers to reducing soya imports. It was also amended to clarify that Entocycle is not the UK’s first commercial black soldier fly facility, but it is planning to expand.

Sign up for the Animals farmed monthly update to get a roundup of the best farming and food stories across the world and keep up with our investigations. You can send us your stories and thoughts at animalsfarmed@theguardian.com


Emilie Filou

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Farm animals can eat insects and algae to prevent deforestation
WWF says alternatives to industrially farmed animal feed must be developed to stop biodiversity loss

Bibi van der Zee

05, Oct, 2017 @5:09 PM

Article image
How can we stop using soya linked to deforestation?
From feeding insects to chickens to tracking produce, a range of options aim to curb appetite for soya that harms the environment

Tom Levitt

25, Nov, 2020 @3:00 PM

Article image
US beekeepers sue over imports of Asian fake honey
Commercial beekeepers in the US say counterfeit honey from Asia is forcing down prices and pushing them to financial collapse

Alison Benjamin

01, May, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
UK supermarkets could still be buying meat linked to deforestation in Brazil, report suggests
At least 27,000 hectares of Cerrado have allegedly been destroyed by suppliers to major soya traders that supply UK meat industry

Tom Ambrose

11, Jul, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
M&S cuts soya from production of milk to curb deforestation
UK retailer worked with dairy farms to end use of destructive cattle feed, but critics say move could ‘shift problem elsewhere’

Rebecca Smithers

30, Sep, 2020 @12:24 PM

Article image
UK imported 1m tonnes of soya with deforestation risk in 2019
New analysis finds 40% was brought in without sourcing checks from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay

Tom Levitt

01, Dec, 2020 @11:58 AM

Article image
Walmart selling beef from firm linked to Amazon deforestation
Exclusive: US chains Walmart, Costco and Kroger selling Brazilian beef produced by JBS linked to destruction of Brazilian rainforest

Andrew Wasley and Alexandra Heal

13, Feb, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
China's new animal health rules alone won't stop zoonotic outbreaks, experts warn
Enforcement of rules and boosting numbers of vets to help with inspections, quarantines and general animal health seen as critical

Michael Standaert

26, Jan, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Don't invest in Brazilian meat, warn deforestation campaigners
Open letter signed by Global Witness and Greenpeace Brasil cautions potential investors on risk of deforestation in supply chains of JBS and Marfrig

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

11, Dec, 2019 @2:02 PM

Article image
Brazil’s Amazon beef plan will ‘legalise deforestation’ say critics
The beef industry hopes a planned deforestation-free farming zone will tempt buyers back but many fear it will drive up illegal tree felling

Brian Barth and Flávia Milhorance

17, Nov, 2021 @7:00 AM