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ForFarmers: insects as an efficient source of protein

Insects are nature's waste recyclers. What other animals do not eat, they convert into protein, energy and other nutrients. ForFarmers is deploying insects in two ways: as a source of animal feed and as potential processors of residual flows. Christiaan Buitink (nutritionist and product manager poultry) sees plenty of opportunities: “Thanks to insects, we are able to use residual flows that cannot be fed directly and therefore create a natural source of protein for those same pigs and chickens.”

Feed that fits sustainability objectives

ForFarmers is looking for protein and fat sources that fit within its sustainability ambitions. Christiaan notices that the role of insects is becoming increasingly important in that quest. “On the one hand, there are opportunities to use insects as a raw material for animal feed, for poultry and pigs. On the other hand, ForFarmers also has a significant involvement in sourcing residual flows from the food industry which are being fed to livestock. Insects could play an important role in this if we can feed them these residual streams.”

Reliable and predictable

For the optimal use of insects as a feed raw material, Christiaan and his colleagues at the Nutrition and Innovation Centre (NIC) are on the right track: “We have conducted trials to investigate how broilers and laying hens respond to feed made from insect products. In these trials we saw no spectacular effects on the animals’ performance. For us, that is good news indeed: it proves that we accurately calculate the value of the raw material and that we can rely on incorporating it into the feed and that the chickens’ performance with this feed is predictable.”


Creating value together

Also together with partners, ForFarmers is looking for the opportunities that insects offer. Christiaan: “Together with ProtixWageningen Livestock ResearchEsbro and Venik, we are investigating which insect products can add value in the food chain. This research is now in the phase of mixing insect products into broiler feed at field farms. In this way, we hope to gain insight into the animals’ performance on this feed. In the process, Esbro is investigating whether it is possible within the chain to provide this feed at a premium. After all, chickens by nature eat insects, which is appealing to the consumer sentiment.”

Hurdles ahead

Livestock feed containing insect products is currently relatively expensive compared to conventional feed. According to Christiaan, this is partly because insects are now mainly processed in pet food and fish feed. “There are simply bigger margins in that market. Individual consumers are prepared to pay higher prices than livestock farmers can afford.” Another hurdle ahead for insect products is current legislation. “Insects are now equal to pigs, chickens and cows by law. As a result, you are only allowed to feed them certain raw materials that are also suitable for these other animals. Many residual streams that could be suitable as insect food do not qualify as such.”

Significant influence of legislation

Last year we saw the amendments to the legislation needed to make working with insects more interesting: “Since then, animal proteins that are not processed into food for humans have been allowed to be used for animal feed. Insects also belong to these animal proteins and that offers opportunities. But we are not there yet. Residual streams that are currently not allowed to be fed to insects are destroyed or fermented. If we are allowed to feed these streams to insects, we can take a big step forward on sustainability. After all, you reduce the emissions from processing those residual streams and you create more animal proteins.”


Opportunities for insects

Christiaan sees other important opportunities for insects on the production side: “Through economies of scale and more efficient production, the cost of production will drop and it will become affordable for livestock farmers. Especially when the volumes produced start to exceed the demand from pet and fish feed.” That more efficient production also translates to the insects themselves. “Through genetics, you can breed insects that grow more efficiently on raw materials. I often compare it to poultry farming and pig farming: genetic selection has created better-performing chickens and pigs over the past 50 years. Those opportunities also exist for insects.”




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