Feeding the 45 million : substituting soybean protein with insect protein within EU poultry and egg production
Abstract: A global population increasing both in number and in resource consumption per capita has resulted in food, livestock feed and energy crop demands that are increasingly difficult to meet on rapidly degrading soils within a diminishing available area of arable land. With further expansion of agricultural land infeasible and yield increases through further intensification insufficient to meet the scale of predicted crop demand, the use of insects as an animal feed has gained traction as a method of not only reducing competition for arable land, but also some of the detrimental environmental consequences of livestock and conventional feed production. However, while recent years have seen an explosion of academic studies investigating aspects of the use of insects as a livestock feed, there has been very little work investigating the potential ramifications of insect production and use at a scale on par with existing livestock feed products. With soybean one of the most popular livestock feed components, the EU one of the largest soy importers in the world and chickens the largest consumer of compound livestock feed, this study substitutes soybean meal-based protein utilised within EU poultry and egg production with protein from three insect species - each proven to be a viable dietary substitute for soybean protein - at ratios of up to 100%. The results of this study indicate that the protein currently provided to EU poultry & egg production through soybean meal could be entirely replaced with insect-based meal using less than 1% of the land currently used for protein production. This would represent the saving of over 4.6 Mha of soybean crop or fertile arable land that could potentially be made available for alternative uses. Further, this study finds the redundant soybean crop able to meet the complete annual calorific requirements of up to 45 million people, with further potential benefits of large-scale insect production including significant quantities of biofertiliser and biodiesel, as well as the possible aiding of the implementation of carbon-sequestering and soil-retaining alternative farming methods. With the use of waste side-stream substrates during insect production key to potential land-use reductions, sourcing sufficient amounts of appropriate waste side-streams without compromising alternative waste uses is likely to be a major obstacle to a large-scale substitution, despite EU regulations and public opinion increasingly accepting of the use of insects as a livestock feed. Other problems such as significant energy usage and technological barriers are largely considered to be a result of the burgeoning nature of the industry, though the poikilothermic nature of insects implies possible limitations to insect production in colder climates. This study concludes that substitution of soybean meal-based protein with insect-based protein has the potential to positively impact a variety of upcoming global issues such as diminishing arable lands, increasing resource consumption and increasing crop demand, with a lack of published academic data regarding large-scale insect production providing exciting future research opportunities.
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