No matter how efficient food production is, there are always losses along its production and distribution chain, and thus significant quantities of products are lost in the form of waste and by-products. In fact, about 30% of the world food production is wasted and sent to landfill or composting, with the consequent loss of its nutrients, an important environmental and economic resource.
On the other hand, global production of animal feed follow the steady increase in the consumption of animal products, exceeding one billion tonnes by 2016, with this increase in production being associated with the growth in world demand for animal protein. In addition, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that by 2050 the demand for food worldwide has increased by 60% compared to current values and that the production of animal protein increases by 1.7% per year. Of these, meat production is expected to increase by 70%, aquaculture by 90% and milk production by 55%. These increases in consumption relate not only to the increase in population, to 9 billion in 2050, but also to changes in world food habits, with an increase in the consumption of animal products, especially in developing countries.
Currently the ingredients used in the formulation of animal feed include fish meal, fish oil, soy and various types of grains. These ingredients, which are scarce in Portugal, account for a very significant part of the costs of producing compound feedingstuffs and, due to the production increases, their prices have been heavily fluctuating on the world market.
This leads the world animal feed producers to look for sustainable alternatives to traditionally used protein sources. In the case of Portugal, the situation is more pressing since the dependence of these ingredients leads them to be almost entirely imported, especially soybeans, at ever high prices, also causing CO2 emissions associated with transportation from other parts of the globe. The development of a nutritional alternative would be extremely advantageous for producers and manufacturers of animal feed in Portugal. The ideal would be to find solutions that can be used in the national space and that take advantage of economically accessible resources.
The search for solutions to these challenges is central to the activity of several companies worldwide. Among the different strategies the use of insects as a tool in the valorization of by-products and as a nutritional source has gained more and more adepts. However, this solution is only feasible if these animals are produced on a large scale in a controlled, efficient and economical way. However, this commitment has gained in importance because, in addition to the potential to value by-products of agri-food production, the use of insects also ensures the production of an innovative nutritional source of high quality and competitive in the international market of animal feed.
The principle behind the use of insects is the circular economy, and the goal is to value nutrients and return them to the agri-food value chain. The largest ally in this demand is the Black Soldier Fly, an insect specie that in its larval stage has the ability to convert a wide variety of wastes.
The larvae of these flies are currently fed exclusively with vegetable by-products which in a few days are converted into organic fertilizers, which can be used directly in agricultural soils. This process also results in the production of large numbers of larvae, insects that never reach the fly phase and are subsequently processed and farmed to be used as a nutritional source in animal feed.
The use of insects in animal feed, as well as human nutrition, is a hot topic at international level and several companies are emerging to invest in this type of solution in various parts of the globe. In addition, the first regulatory changes for the use of insects as a nutritional source also begin to exist. As a result, one of these first amendments entered into force in July 2017, and allows the use of insect protein in aquaculture fish feed in the European space, an extremely important step for this sector and for the international insect production industry.
There are strong indicators that this nature-inspired solution will be part of the future of agricultural production, as it not only maximizes the profitability of natural and nutritional resources, but also contributes to the sustainability of the agro-food sector.