Report on the Insect Farming Workshop, Edinburgh, Scotland

Dr Neil Auchterlonie attended a workshop on insect farming, in Edinburgh, on the 7th February 2019.  This was a one-day workshop designed to “bring together key organisations from across the would-be insect supply chain to share information and network”.  It provided a crash-course in insect production, the emerging insect meal industry, and the potential utilization of the product in animal feed, pet food and aquafeed.  It was a well-organised and managed event with numerous interesting snippets of information provided throughout the day.  The audience was introduced to a new acronym “BSF” referring to the Black Soldier Fly, currently the basis for commercial insect farming interests.

The workshop opened with a session on the Need for Alternative Protein, and a presentation from Dr Richard Newton, Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling on the “Protein Gap”*.  This was followed up by a presentation on insect farming as an element of the circular economy (with the opportunity to develop protein from what are effectively “waste” resources). 

Further sessions on the European regulatory framework (a framework that lags behind the emerging sector), opportunities in fish feed with an overview of fish nutrition, potential for volume of production (in Scotland), and business support and finance where the industry is well-laced to attract funding.  The day ended with perhaps the most interesting presentation of all, that of the view from a producer, given by Bon Willink of Protix, who described the Protix experiences in farming insects in the Netherlands.

It was disappointing, but not surprising, to hear some of the common misconceptions about fishmeal and fish oil sustainability in a workshop that was dedicated to an alternative ingredient, where one may think that the focus would be on the exciting new alternative markets for the product, ramping up production volumes and looking at the adoption of new technology in production systems.  It seems that the novel ingredients are somewhat insecure about their market opportunities and they tend to place themselves in direct opposition to fishmeal and fish oil, criticising the utilisation of marine ingredients from natural resources.  From our perspective at IFFO, we always acknowledge the need for more feed ingredients, a need driven by the growth in fed aquaculture, but we think that growth provides opportunities for all ingredients to work together.

Some of the other messages coming through the workshop were interesting, and I would summarise these as follows:

  • The insect farming industry is still a long way from achieving commercial scales of production, and scale-up is not straightforward;
  • The chitin present in insects (from the pupae) is not digestible in animal feed, and drives an interest in removal of the material from insect meal;
  • The production life-cycle is 14 days, eggs to pupae;
  • The protein product is approximately 39-43% protein;
  • The fat/lipid product appears to be solid at room temperatures, and therefore likely to have a high proportion of saturated fats;
  • There does not seem to be an issue with environmental contaminants (e.g. PCBs, dioxins) or bioaccumulation;
  • The amino acid profile in the protein fraction is quite similar to fishmeal (for the essential amino acids), but there is a strong point of difference with the other micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, omega-3s);
  • In some instances, the substrate used as feed for insects has also been used as a fish feed ingredient itself directly (e.g. DDGS, algae), and the use of insects introduces another trophic level into the system which seems inefficient.  Other substrates are very low quality and may carry safety risks (e.g. manure);
  • Production of insects for feed seems to be focused on the BSF.  There are several species considered/proposed for food, including locusts, grasshoppers and mealworms;
  • Production facilities need to be temperature-controlled in order to maintain production efficiencies;
  • The reduction of insects to insect meal is roughly similar to fishmeal from raw material, i.e. a ratio of 4-5:1;
  • Insects also produce a waste material known as frass (insect faeces), which has some regulatory restrictions as to how it can be used/removed;
  • Animal welfare issues have been raised in Europe (for the farmed insects).

All in all a very worthwhile event with lots of information shared.  If any members have specific questions I am happy to respond to those as far as I am able, nauchterlonie@iffo.net.

 

*Dr Richard Newton is well known to the IFFO Membership, having previously delivered a project on byproducts utilisation (2016), and currently working on a project that investigates the use of Fish In: Fish Out ratios (FIFO) in a more sophisticated manner.