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Investors swarm into insect farming

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Could insects be the answer to growing demand for animal feed?

Booming global meat demand is fuelling a drive to find new sources of protein for livestock feeds.

And now investors are piling into the insect meal sector, with at least $40m of venture capital recently invested in new companies.

Investors in the sector include a number of venture capital firms, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

And in early in 2016 the global bio-science company Intrexon acquired the insect-meal producer EnviroFlight for an undisclosed amount.

Fishmeal substitute

Insect meal is produced by collecting and drying fly larvae to produce a feed meal or pressing it to produce oil.

The product is seen as a cost effective alternative to soybeans or fishmeal, especially since the insects can be raised on biodegradable waste.

This comes at a time that fishmeal has seen significant price increases due to supply restrictions and heightened demand.

Regulatory resistance

But although use of insect meal is permitted in some markets, including China and South Africa, there are regulatory hurdles to overcome in the western world.

Regulations in the EU and US currently ban insects from being used in animal feed due to the wider concerns associated with processed animal proteins (PAPs) being fed to other livestock.

This is a hangover from the BSE outbreak, which was the result of animals being processed into feedmeal.

"There is currently little research into the effects of animals fed on PAPs and consequences for end- consumers mean regulators are yet unwilling to loosen the rules," said Edward Hugo, head of research, VSA.

"It is argued that feeding insects on waste makes it hard to monitor what they are actually eating and to quantify the nutritional value gained," Mr Hugo said.

Slow progress

Progress so far has been slow.

"Until many more large-scale studies are undertaken into the exact impact of feeding insect meal to animals, regulation reform is likely to be slow," said Mr Hugo.

But policy bodies in the EU are not entirely hostile.

Realizing the potential in this sector, the EU has launched PROteINSECT, a three year project looking at the potential for insects as a sustainable source of protein for animal feed.

"This highlights that the EU is aware to the protein deficient problem and the potential of insect PAP as a solution," Mr Hugo said.

And regulatory progress is moving quicker in North America, where Canadian insect-meal company Enterra has received approval to sell its insect meal as feed for salmonids in the US and as poultry feed in Canada.

By Tanya Ashreena

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