Fitting insect production into current regulations a challenge

Canadian and EU companies call for fewer limits on feedstuffs

Insect-rearing innovators in Canada are ahead of the United States and the European Union when it comes to approvals for use in animal feed products.

However, that hasn’t translated into a broad opening up of new markets. In all three jurisdictions, more work is needed to convince regulators and others in the livestock sector about the scientific and sustainability merits of insect production.

Why it matters: Insects could be a protein feed ingredient for livestock feed, with low environmental impact.

Ingredients derived from insects are approved for use in Canada for farmed fish, poultry and swine, and represent a potential alternative to current feedstuffs in those sectors.

Heinrich Katz is a founder of the Hermetia Deutschland company and a committee member for the International Platform for Insects as Food and Feed. He spoke during the recent Eurotier agricultural farm show.

Katz said public and government regulators must learn that insect production has the potential to play a significant role in keeping organic nutrients from being discarded as waste. 

He said a number of regulatory barriers prevent insect producers from capitalizing on that message.

Katz, along with the University of Munich’s Chair of Animal Nutrition Wilhelm Windisch, were presenters for a session entitled “EU legislation on the use of insects in animal feed.” Eurotier, Europe’s largest farm show, was held on-line in early February.

Black soldier flies represent 61 per cent of the sector in Europe, followed by yellow mealworms at 39 per cent, house crickets at 19 per cent, and five per cent for each of lesser mealworms and common housefly larvae.

Dried black soldier fly larvae used as a base for Oreka’s feed supplement. photo: Oreka

“Farmed insects are considered farmed animals” under EU legislation, Katz said. “It’s nothing else than pig or poultry rearing.” As a result, they fall under legislation governing such topics as rural economic development and organic certification.

However, it also means a ban on the feeding of human or animal waste, or waste from food service, or any former foodstuffs containing meat or fish. Insect producers can feed former foodstuffs containing vegetables, dairy or eggs.

Despite lacking approvals for use in livestock feeds, there’s a potential market of 1.3 billion euros per year in pet foods. While finding buyers for insects isn’t generally a challenge, the added step of separating out the allowed foodstuffs can make it difficult to translate those sales into profitability.

“We are allowed to use pizza margarita but we are not allowed to use pizza salami,” Katz said, referring to a vegetarian-based versus a meat-based food product. Being able to use a range of restaurant and foodservice waste, or waste from slaughterhouses, would be beneficial, he said. For that to happen, there needs to be more scientific work done on how insects can break down the proteins in food waste, to show that it should be deemed safe to feed these insects to animals.

In North America, insect producers face similar feed source limitations. Cambridge, Ont.,-based black soldier fly producer Oreka Solutions is a member of IPIFF, and company chief executive officer James Alden attended a recent virtual meeting hosted by the organization. Alden told Farmtario that he shares Katz’s opinion that allowed feedstuffs should be broadened.

Another similarity between the two jurisdictions is an exemption from animal welfare regulations.

“They have a different kind of pain because they don’t have a vertebra,” Katz said. 

Hermetia Deutschland, tries to follow what are known as “the five needs” of animal welfare and aims to allow the insects to exhibit natural behaviour.

That behaviour isn’t what might be expected from more conventional livestock: “If you put them outside, they always crowd together,” Katz explained of the black soldier fly. “They want to be together. They’re different from swine or humans, who want to have a certain space.”

At Oreka Solutions, meanwhile, there has been considerable discussion about the “most humane” way to kill the insect larva prior to processing.

Asked about differences between Europe and North America, Alden was careful to delineate between Canada and the U.S. South of the border, he said, there has been some inconsistent messaging in legislative approvals.

Insect ingredients are OK in pet food in Canada, as in the EU, but not in the U.S. Also in the U.S., farmed fish producers can’t use insect-based feed ingredients in tilapia but they can in salmonids. Alden doesn’t see the logic in this.

In Canada, it’s approved for both types of farmed fish.

According to Katz, IPIFF last year made strides in approvals for farmed fish, and the organization’s primary focus now shifts to approvals for poultry and swine feed. There is also work being done on approvals for use of frass (insect excreta) as a fertilizer, and firming up organic certification rules so that insect producers can act when the EU closes a loophole allowing organic turkey producers to use a certain percentage of non-organic feed.

Egg trays from Oreka’s breeding nets are inspected. photo: Oreka

Oreka Solutions set a precedent in 2019 when it achieved approvals for black soldier fly larva to be used in poultry production and farmed fish in Canada. Swine was added to the approved list a few months ago. As a result, Alden said, there are some feed companies looking into it in Canada.

Alden says other similarities between Europe and North America include the high-quality research being generated, and the level of investment being brought forward. Those strengths, he’s convinced, will only grow in the future. For now though, awareness remains in its infancy.

“Right now, there’s such a limited knowledge in the poultry sector and the swine sector about all of this.”

As a result, sales for Oreka Solutions come in three categories:

1. Live products sold to zoos for reptiles, amphibians and insectivorous birds.
2. An online business called Snackyard, targeting producers of backyard chickens and ducks. Due to feedback through that sales avenue, the company will soon launch a special line for which the insects are fed 100 per cent organic feedstuffs.
3. Nutritional supplements with probiotic characteristics for use in poultry and fish. This is the market they’d like to develop over the longer term.

The company’s sole production facility is housed in a converted livestock barn, and they’re hoping to raise capital to replace it with a new climate-controlled building. They would also like to build an insect-rearing facility in South America.

About the author

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Stew Slater

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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