Using insects as livestock feed could cut UK soy use and save habitats – report

Using insects to feed fish and livestock could cut the UK’s use of soy by a fifth and protect important habitats from destruction, a report has suggested.

Research commissioned by wildlife charity WWF in partnership with Tesco found that the demand for insect meal from the UK’s pig, poultry and salmon sectors could reach around 540,000 tonnes a year by 2050.

That could mean around 16,000 tonnes of fishmeal and 524,000 tonnes of soy being replaced, the equivalent to one-fifth of the UK’s projected soy imports in 2050, or Tesco’s entire 2018 soy footprint.

Insects at AgriGrub's facility (Electric Robin/PA)
Insects at an AgriGrub facility (Electric Robin/PA)

Around 150,000 hectares (370,000 acres) of land was required to produce that amount of soy annually, an area almost the size of Greater London, it said.

The report stated that cultivation of soy, three-quarters of which goes to animal feed, was fuelling deforestation, the conversion of natural habitat to cropland and climate change, hitting key landscapes such as Brazil’s Cerrado where more than 100,000 hectares is lost each year to make way for soy production.

Switching to insect meal would not only reduce that pressure, it also had the advantage that many insects recycle and decompose biological material such as surplus food, by-products and other things that might otherwise go to waste, turning them instead into useful protein, the report said.

At the moment, processed insect protein cannot be fed to farmed livestock intended for human consumption, although the EU is expected to amend legislation to permit its use in pig and poultry feed and the UK could follow suit, and it is permitted in aquaculture.

The report suggested that around 240,000 tonnes of insect meal could be produced by UK insect farmers, but the growth of the industry was lagging behind other countries and only a limited number of materials for feeding the insects reared for animal feed were authorised.

WWF and Tesco are calling on the UK Government to require the Food Standards Agency, with input from Food Standards Scotland, to research the potential and regulatory requirements for using additional materials for insect farming.

Tesco wants the Government to develop financial incentives to support innovative farming methods, including insect farming, to help them scale-up, and WWF is urging aquaculture suppliers and retailers to work together to increase demand for insect meal.

Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF, said: “Livestock plays a crucial role in the global food system but producing feed for the 80 billion animals reared for human consumption each year is putting immense pressure on our planet’s resources.

“With nature in freefall and our climate in crisis, it’s vital that the food we eat here in the UK isn’t driving deforestation overseas.

Pigs on a farm
The development of alternative animal feeds was ‘vital’, Tesco said (Danny Lawson/PA)

“We encourage the UK Government and retail industry to take urgent action to get environmentally damaging practices out of our supply chains and off our shelves.

“This includes scaling-up the use of alternative proteins such as insect meal and supporting calls for a circular feed system here in the UK.”

Ashwin Prasad, chief product officer at Tesco, said: “The development of alternative animal feeds like insect meal is vital in tackling the environmental impact of food production.

“Retailers like Tesco and the food industry as a whole have a key role to play in scaling-up the use of insect feed, and we’re already trialling its use in our aquaculture supply chain.

“We’re calling on Government to build on this report and develop financial incentives to support innovative farming methods, such as insect farming, which will support the scale-up of these new industries.”