It’s time to start feeding insects to pigs and poultry
From 2022, pig and poultry farmers in the EU will be able to feed their livestock purpose-bred insects, following the European Commission’s changes to the feed regulations. This means that farmers will be allowed to use processed animal proteins (PAPs) and insects to feed non-ruminant animals including swine, poultry and horses.
Pigs and poultry are the world’s biggest consumers of animal feed. In 2020, they consumed 260.9 million and 307.3 million tonnes respectively, compared with 115.4 million and 41 million for beef and fish. Most of this feed is made from soya, cultivation of which is one of the leading causes of deforestation around the world, notably in Brazil and the Amazon rainforest. Piglets are also fed on fish meal, which encourages overfishing.
To reduce this unsustainable supply, the EU has encouraged the use of alternative, plant-based proteins, such as the lupin bean, field bean and alfalfa. The licensing of insect proteins in pig and poultry feed represents a further step in the development of sustainable EU feed.
Insects use a fraction of the land and resources needed by soya, thanks to their minuscule size and the use of vertical-farming methods. Licensing their use in pig and poultry feed in 2022 will help to reduce unsustainable imports and their impact on forests and biodiversity. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, by 2050, insect protein could replace a significant proportion of soya used for animal feed. In the United Kingdom, this would mean a reduction of 20 per cent in the amount of soya being imported.
This will not only be good for our planet, but for pigs and chickens too. Insects are part of the natural diet of both wild pigs and poultry. They constitute up to ten per cent of a bird’s natural nutrition, rising to 50 per cent for some birds, such as turkeys. This means that poultry health in particular is improved by the incorporation of insects into their diets.
Incorporating insects into pig and poultry feed will therefore not only increase animal wellbeing and industry efficiency, but also the nutritional value of the pork and chicken products we consume, thanks to the animals’ improved diet and boosted overall health.
Insect proteins will first be used in the premium pig- and poultry-feed market, where benefits currently outweigh the increased cost. After a few years, once economies of scale are in place, the full market potential can be reached.
Insect-based animal feed is simply a manifestation of insects’ natural place at the base of the food chain. In 2022, we will be feeding them to pigs and poultry, but the possibilities are vast. In a few years, we may well be welcoming them to our plate.