SCOTLAND could lose out on becoming a major player in the emerging insects for feed sector if it doesn’t engage with the opportunities soon.
The country is well placed to become a leader in the field, with its large aquaculture industry, a day-long conference in Edinburgh heard yesterday.
Organised by Zero Waste Scotland, the event attracted delegates from across the aquaculture and food and drink supply chains.
Speakers described the need for alternative sustainable proteins to meet growing demand for animal feeds and address the limited availability of marine ingredients.
Farming insects – in particular, black soldier fly – can convert organic residues into feed, helping to fill the protein gap and reduce waste.
The EU produces 88 million tonnes of food waste annually, said Christophe Derrien, secretary general of the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF).
This waste must be used more productively, and can be converted rapidly by insects, which are a natural part of the diets of carnivorous fish and are amenable to mass rearing.
There are now hundreds of entrepreneurs moving into this burgeoning industry, with some already well established.
These include AgriProtein, launched in South Africa, and the Netherlands company Protix, which began operations 10 years ago and now employs 100 staff.
A major breakthrough for insect pioneers came in July 2017 when the EU passed legislation permitting the use of insects in aquafeed, opening up potentially enormous markets for this protein source.
One of the drivers behind the legislative change was Dr Elaine Fitches, of Durham University and Fera (the Food and Environment Research Agency), who was in Edinburgh yesterday to explain how insect farming promotes a circular economy.
She extolled the virtues of the black soldier fly, which feeds on a wide range of residues and doesn’t carry human or livestock diseases.
Fitches said the development of the sector would be heavily influenced by substrate supply – which currently excludes manure and catering waste – and she called on government to support the industry ‘to help make this happen’.
The potential for insect feed in Scottish aquaculture was outlined by Dr Sam Houston, of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), who said with lower inclusion levels, a turnover of £25.6 million based on selling 18,000 tonnes was possible (in a calculation using AgriProtein’s MagMeal, which sells for £1,435 per tonne compared to around £1,179 for fishmeal).
Houston said insect meal needed to compete with fishmeal before feed manufacturers would use it, but Nick Bradbury of BioMar, one of the delegates, questioned modelling the viability of insect meal for commercial salmon feed on replacing fishmeal.
‘To have a decent market, it’s got to replace plant proteins,’ he said, adding that these are in the region of £700 a tonne.
The lack of volume in the insect sector, as well as public acceptance, was seen by many as the main obstacle to gaining traction in the market.
The technology is now proven, said Keiran Olivares Whitaker of London based start-up Entocycle, but major government investment was needed.
Europe is already playing catch-up, as places like Brazil, India and China accelerate animal production and demand for protein. Aquaculture is increasing and the markets are huge, and Entocycle, which is planning market entry in 2020, has identified five regions to target.
‘Scotland is going to be key in this industry because you have a very forward looking philosophy, especially around the waste cycle but also in the salmon industry, and other agriculture industries, and relatively condensed food production facilities which enable this to be rolled out in quick scale.’
Insect production globally is starting to take off and is getting substantial support from some governments, said Whitaker. The French, for instance, have already given 38 million euros to just two companies and are investing up to one billion euros over the next five years.
‘Scotland should and could be world leaders in this – you have everything on the doorstep. We could do this rapidly but what we need is support from regions and local governments. Otherwise Scotland and the UK will simply fall behind.’
A full report on Insect Farming in Scotland will appear in the March issue of Fish Farmer.
Picture: Dr Sam Houston of SAIC at the conference