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Should We Allow Animals in Europe to be Fed on Insects?

23 March 2015

EU - European consumers are being asked to give their opinion on whether we should allow insect protein to be introduced in Europe as an additional source of protein in animal feed.

Global consumption of meat is increasing and with it, the need for animal feed. The demand for coarse grain, for example, is projected to grow by 20 per cent within a decade.

Currently, more than 40 million tonnes of crop proteins such as soybeans are imported annually into EU countries; 60 per cent of which is used to feed the livestock being reared to satisfy our appetite for chops and chicken wings.

Protein from insect larvae might offer an affordable and sustainable addition to imported sources of protein for animals. But there are certain questions which need to be addressed before governments will sanction the introduction of insects to the food chain in this way – one of which is consumer acceptance.

“There would be little point in retailers stocking meat from insect-reared animals if shoppers were unwilling to buy it,” said Dr Elaine Fitches, co-ordinator of the EC-funded PROteINSECT project, which is investigating quality, safety, processes and consumer acceptance around the use of insects in animal feed.

“It’s so important that we find out what the public wants and needs to help them make an informed choice.”

Although insects are commonly used in Asian and African countries for both animal and human food, there is still a ‘yuck’ factor associated with bugs here in Europe.

Last year PROteINSECT conducted a benchmark consumer acceptance survey, the results of which were more positive than expected; over 70 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to eat pork, chicken or fish from animals fed on insects.

But the exercise also highlighted the need for more information to be made publicly available about insect farming and processing, so that consumers can make informed choices.

PROteINSECT has launched a second survey to gather feedback from at least 1,000 respondents across Europe. The results will inform the project’s ongoing work with MEPs and European regulators, and will inform Europe-wide policy on our future food security.

Dr Fitches explains: “This issue is already on the European Parliament’s agenda; it has recently adopted a resolution to address the EU’s protein deficit, stating that urgent action is needed to replace imported protein crops with alternative European sources, while DG Sante has commissioned the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to provide an opinion on the available safety evidence around insect protein.”

Dr Fitches is joining other researchers and academics at the University of Alicante in Spain to debate the challenges surrounding the exploitation of insects. The conference is being led by PROteINSECT, which involves research and policy partners from the UK, Belgium, Austria, China and Africa, and BioFlyTech, a technology-based company dedicated to the mass rearing and production of different species of dipterans (flies).

It is the perfect platform to launch PROteINSECT’s second survey – particularly because the event will be attended by several hundred students from the University, as Dr Fitches explains: “We are particularly keen to hear from the next generation of consumers because they will have significant influence over future food consumption and shopping behaviours. Over coming weeks we’ll be promoting the online survey across European channels, to gauge consumer opinions and preferences, and to help us all reach a better understanding of the issues and challenges surrounding the use of insects to feed animals.”

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