In the realm of new, alternative poultry feed ingredients and additives, one contender stands out among the rest: insect protein.
Over the past few years, aided by the support of multiple studies, insect protein has stepped into the mainstream of poultry feed discourse. “In response to environmental and cost factors, animal feed manufacturers are increasingly incorporating insect meal into their products,” said Alexandra Kazaks Ph.D., RDN, a member of the Institute of Food Technologists’ Nutrition Division. The future of insect protein in poultry feed is increasingly bright with growing acceptance and larger-scale production on the horizon.
The nutritional benefits and challenges of insect protein
The main draw of using insect protein – primarily made from black soldier fly (BSF), mealworm, cricket or silkworm – in poultry feed is its similar nutritional benefits compared to traditional ingredients like soy and fishmeal.
BSF larvae and mealworms are high in protein, and insect larvae provides nutrients that benefit poultry growth rates, feather quality and health, according to Kazaks.
When incorporating insect protein into feed, ratio is key. For instance, BSF should make up 5-20% of feed formulations to get the best results. And according to recent studies, incorporating high levels of BSF could have no additional impact on poultry health, at best, or could hinder growth performance, at worst.
“In addition, there may be significant variability in the nutrient composition of insects based on factors such as species, diet, and rearing conditions,” said Kazaks. “Producers need to carefully evaluate the insect sources and processing of to ensure consistency in their feed formulations and, ultimately, the quality of the poultry product.”
Also, if using insect protein in feed, poultry producers will need to label end products as such because people with shellfish allergies could be allergic to poultry products fed insects.
The environmental impact
“Using insects in poultry feed compared to traditional feed sources like soy or fishmeal provides several pathways to improve the sustainability of poultry production,” said Kazaks.
Kazaks highlights a few of these pathways:
· Insects can be fed organic waste, which diverts waste from landfills and contributes to the circular economy.
· Feeding insects waste and byproducts reduces competition for human food.
· Insect farming uses significantly less water and land than is needed for an ingredient like soy.
· Using insects does not require overfishing that is common in fishmeal production.
Insect protein and public reception
Since the sector is still new, there are currently no regulations or standards when it comes to producing insect protein for poultry feed.
“It can be challenging to navigate the regulatory landscape, leading to uncertainties in compliance and potential legal issues,” said Kazaks. “Clear and standardized regulations need to be established to provide much-needed guidance to industry players but also bolster consumer confidence in the safety of this innovative approach to animal feeding.”
In the meantime, researchers are looking to sway public opinion in favor of insect protein, and recent surveys are discovering a positive public reception, especially in the case of livestock like chickens since they would eat insects in nature.
The future of the industry
Before insect protein can reach large scale production, a large-enough infrastructure needs to be built that can meet demand.
“Additionally, issues related to feedstock availability, disease management, and maintaining optimal environmental conditions pose significant hurdles for the industry,” said Kazaks.
But some are not letting these hurdles deter them.
Just in the past month, Tyson Foods announced that it is investing in global insect protein company, Protix, and they will also be working together to construct an insect ingredient facility in the U.S.