Momentum is building behind the idea of including insects in animal feed as a source of protein, to replace other ingredients such as soyabean meal and fishmeal.

Delegates attending the Insects to Feed the World conference in the Netherlands this week heard that insects provide a highly nutritious and digestible source of protein for poultry. They can also be cultivated more sustainably, and could play a part in enabling a growing world population to eat more meat, more efficiently and using less land.

But there are significant legislative hurdles to be cleared. Representatives from the EU Commission explained that current regulations, put in place following the BSE crisis, forbid the feeding of processed animal proteins to farmed animals. Furthermore, the insects themselves could only be fed material which was already safe to feed other animals.

There is also a lack of “authorised slaughterhouses” for insects, explained the officials. This is because the regulations were not written with insects in mind.

See also: Research looks at insect protein for poultry feed

Delegates replied that insects are a natural part of the diet of poultry. David Drew, managing director of the “world’s biggest farm” – Agriprotein Technologies of South Africa, which has 8.5 billion individual insects – said that birds have been eating insects for millions of years. Current EU rules are as absurd as “saying pandas should not eat bamboo”, he suggested.

Others pointed out that free-range chickens eat insects from the ground all the time, while humans eat bits of insects all the time, for example, when they eat figs.

Adrian Charlton from DEFRA’s Food and Environment Research Agency said: “Using insects in animal feed has many advantages, particularly their high digestibility, but safety implications need to be properly researched and understood.” These concerns include contamination by heavy metals, pesticides, dioxins, veterinary medicines, microbial pathogens and mycotoxins from fungi.