1. What do insects eat?

Generally, the substrate used in insect farming represents a mix of different agri-food by-products and underused side streams (for further information, please refer to the IPIFF Guide on Good Hygiene Practices). The ‘recipe’ used represents a combination of ingredients that takes into consideration the species farmed, their life stage and the desired output (i.e. to be used in food or feed application). In the European Union, insects are considered ‘farmed animals’ – which means that the feedstuff used in insect farming has to follow the safety standards applied to other farmed animals, such as chickens or pigs. Therefore, insects used in food and feed applications cannot be presently fed with catering waste or animal manure.

2. How can insect producers guarantee that their products are safe?

The existing scientific literature shows that insects entail low pathogen risks for food and feed applications. Notably, the opinion conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2015 indicated that ‘insects carry no additional biological or chemical risks compared to other protein sources of animal origin when fed with currently allowed feed materials in the EU’ (i.e. vegetal based substrates, former foodstuffs containing such materials or animal-based products such as milk, eggs, honey rendered fats, blood or fishmeal). Whilst EFSA circumscribed its evaluation to a limited number of insects included on a ‘positive list’ (i.e. 12 species in total), this opinion, however, also underlines the importance that producers comply with adequate production methods and/or hygiene standards as a precondition to ensure the safety of insect products placed on the market. To help insect business operators (IBOs) complying with such standards, IPIFF developed the IPIFF Guide of Good Hygiene Practices. This publication recommends IBOs to closely follow good practices illustrated throughout the document with the aim to support the management of ‘safe products suitable for both human consumption and animal feed’. Not every insect species is suitable for insect farming. The species authorised at the moment are known to be safe because they are not a vector of diseases or viruses and they are also not invasive. Like any other animal farm, IBOs are registered before their national competent authority, which can undergo inspections to ensure that good farming practices are properly implemented in accordance with the European or national legislation.

3. What is the current ‘state of development’ of the European insect production sector?

European producers use exclusively indoor or semi-indoor systems, which allow for proper insect growth and development. Producers have also recently developed advanced production techniques – based on modern technologies and full or semi-automatic systems. The European insect industry is today a world leader in terms of innovation and technological advancement. The ability of EU producers to keep this leadership will, however, depend mainly on whether the ‘conditions of a favourable EU regulatory environment’ can be met in the next few years.

4. What are the key regulatory priorities of the European insect sector?

The IPIFF Regulatory Brochure* includes the main regulatory priorities of the European insect sector. Firstly, IPIFF supports the diversification of substrates authorised in insect farming, with former foodstuffs containing meat and fish being the main priority (primarily for the feed chain). This authorisation will allow the insect sector to maximise its upcycling potential, directly contributing to reducing EU’s food waste burden by using products before they are classified as ‘waste’. With respect insects as feed, following the approval of insect processed animal proteins (PAPs) in poultry and swine feed from September 2021, the development of EU standards for whole (treated) insects as animal feed is amongst the new targets of our sector. In terms of insects as food, IPIFF is in close contact with the European Commission and EFSA in order to provide constructive input for the authorisation process of insects as a novel food (for further details, please consult the updated IPIFF Briefing Paper on Novel Food, the IPIFF Briefing note on the CJEU ruling and the IPIFF FAQs on Novel Food).

* The IPIFF Regulatory Brochure is a document dating from 2020. Some of the statements/objectives might be outdated.

5. What is the ‘economic weight’ of the sector today and its forecasted growth in the next few years?

Today, total EU production only represents a few thousand tonnes, whilst total investment exceeded 1.5 billion Euros (as of December 2022). In terms of employment, the sector generates more than a thousand of jobs (direct and indirect) – and by the end of the decade, this figure will increase up to thirty thousand jobs.

6. Are insects farmed organically?

In terms of farming practices, insect farming follows concepts that are very close to the principles of ‘organic farming’. Insect farms rely on natural processes that require minimum inputs, such as water. In addition, no agrochemicals such as plant protection products, hormones or antibiotics are used. Moreover, thanks to the vertical practices incorporated in such facilities, insect production is second to none in terms of land use – fact that reflects its visible indirect benefits on the preservation of biodiversity. However, for the moment, insect-derived products used in the food or feed chains cannot be certified with the EU organic label. The organic standards for insect farming practices are presently being developed by the European Commission. As a transitional measure, IPIFF supports the authorisation of insect PAPs in organic aquaculture (prior to the establishment of organic standards for insects).
Following the entry into force of the new organic legislation (Regulation (EU) 2018/848), the use of insect processed insect frass will also be possible in EU organic agriculture.

1. Why should we eat insects now?

Insects are known to be a sustainable and nutritious addition to humans’ diets, but why should we eat them now?

The introduction of insects to our diet represents a nutritious solution to complement diets with reduced consumption of protein (see question 2.Is insect consumption good for humans?). Notably, insects could be seen as a meat complement in diets that have a low input of animal protein, or as a protein fortifier in diets that need additional sources of protein (e.g.child or maternal nutrition, healthy ageing and sports nutrition, among others).

The intention is to integrate insects into our day-to-day dietary habits, with or without other traditionally used sources of protein (e.g. plant-based or of animal origin). Not only can insect-based products help in preventing nutrient deficiencies, but they can also positively contribute to a healthy, balanced dietrespecting our planet and the environment.

Unlike other protein-rich food products which may be associated with negative externalities, farming insects has a reduced footprint. To this end, insects require minimum water resources, while the vertical principles used in insect farms make such systems highly productive in terms of land use. Moreover, the inputs used to feed insects represent agri-food by-products or underused streams, products that are generally obtained from local sources. Thus, such circular farming practices ensure that products are upcycled into higher-value outputs: proteins, lipids and fertiliser (for further information, please refer to the IPIFF Guide on Good Hygiene Practices).

2. Is insect consumption good for humans?

The incorporation of edible insects into our dietary habits brings high-quality proteins, but also diverse nutrients that are beneficial for human metabolism and overall health. In fact, insects are more than proteins – they contain minerals, vitamins, fibres, but also healthy fatty acids, such as omega6 and omega3. In addition, insect products are also selectively promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria species in the gut microbiota. The potential to include insects in food products we consume on a daily basis –such as bread or bakery products, meat analogues or snacks – is remarkable. In addition, there is increasing scientific evidence on the successful incorporation of insect-based ingredients into diverse food products, confirming the versatility of such ingredients. With respect to the health benefits of edible insects, good practices across the globe include insects in school feeding programs or their use in maternal diets. In Europe, there is growing interest with respect to the use of insects in personalised nutrition and sports nutrition, among others. The extraction of functional ingredients from insects is also viewed as highly promising and its nutritional potential should be further assessed. In short, insects are packed with proteins and essential amino acids, good fats, fibres, vitamins and minerals, providing a boost to your diet (for further information, please refer to the IPIFF Factsheet on Edible Insects and Human Nutrition).

3. Can I be allergic to edible insects?

While edible insects are consumed by over two billion people worldwide, some of us – who could be allergic to crustaceans (i.e. shellfish) – are very likely to be allergic to edible insects, too. For the moment, research further investigates possibilities to mitigate such risks. However, insect food business operators have to comply with good labelling practices and indicate the risk of allergenicity accordingly (see IPIFF’s Guidance on Food Information to Consumers). In conclusion, as a precautionary measure, persons allergic to crustaceans and/or mites should, therefore, avoid consuming insects and their derived products.

4. How are insects eaten?

Insects can be boiled, fried, dried or smoked. From a food safety point of view, it is advisable not to eat insects raw. Once cooked, they are processed into powders or other compatible forms. The advantage of having insect flour is its versatility – it can be integrated into various staple products such as bread or pasta, but also added to nutrition bars, cookies, chocolate, etc. Consumers’ feedback is generally positive. Depending on the cooking method used, people may associate the taste of insects with fried products, seafood or nuts.

5. What is the recommended consumption ratio for insects?

Given the diversity of species and processing methods, the recommended daily intake is product and species-specific. Generally, it is important to keep in mind the recommended daily reference intakes (DRI), depending on someone’s individual needs. For proteins, the European Commission indicates that ‘the recommended amount of protein ranges from 0.80 to 0.83 g per kilogram of body weight for both men and women with modest levels of physical activity’. This means that 100 grams of whole insects (i.e. 40 grams protein/100 grams dry product) could provide almost the entire amount of protein needed by a European adult (assuming that the average body weight is circa 70 kg) during one day. With respect to minerals, certain insects can have up to 20 mg / 100 grams dry weight – exceeding 100% of the iron needed on a daily basis. Considering the diversity of insects farmed across the world, as well as the impact on the farming practices (i.e. substrate used) on the final properties of the product, daily insect consumption should take into account the relevant nutrients included on the label of the product (see IPIFF’s Guidance on Food Information to Consumers).

6. Will insects replace meat in the human diet?

In the context of the significant increase in demand for meat worldwide, the following question arises: ‘how do we satisfy this demand without further expanding the agricultural land area, while also protecting our planet’s limited resources?’.Considering their nutritional characteristics, but also their reduced environmental footprint, insects and insect-derived products are among the solutions to this question. IPIFF does not, however, forecast that insects will completely replace meat in human diets, nor it considers that such development would be desirable. IPIFF acknowledges that diversified eating styles and diets across Europe require the availability of a wide variety of products and ingredients for European consumers to meet their daily dietary needs. Therefore, we consider that edible insects can bring added value to European diets as a complement to meat, but also as a protein fortifier in a wide range of commonly-consumed products – thanks to their multiple nutritive benefits.

1. Why should we feed insects to animals?

The environmental impact of animal farming is directly linked to the products used in animal feed and their overall environmental footprint. Certain commonly used feed ingredients might have a low footprint in terms of land or water use, however, in certain cases, their invisible cost was recently reflected in negative environmental externalities (i.e. biodiversity loss or deforestation). Thus, the question ‘how do we produce healthy and nutritious feed ingredients for aquaculture, poultry and swine animals -while also respecting the environment?’ arises. Driven by such challenges and the need to produce sustainably without expanding the land used for agriculture, the development of ‘new feed ingredients’ –such as insects –proved to be a reliable solution. In fact, biologically speaking, insects are not at all new to fish, poultry or swine species: in their natural environment, such animals eat larvae, flies or other insects. These ‘ingredients’ now reappear ‘on their plate’, contributing directly to animal growth, development, health and welfare. Recent evidence confirms the lower overall environmental footprint of insect farming. Moreover, since the substrates used to farm insects represent agri-food by-products and underused side streams, insect farming also contributes to addressing another global challenge, namely food waste production. Thus, by upcycling such nutritious products before they are classified as ‘waste’, insect farming produces higher-value proteins and lipids for farming (see IPIFF Factsheet Connecting Agricultural Supply Chains through Insect Farming). The benefits of insect farming go beyond that – the insect-based feed ingredients represent a local solution for the animal farming sector, improving circularity in animal farming while also reconnecting regional agricultural supply chains. All these combined reflect the added value of insects and their positive contribution in the transition towards climate neutrality – a target of the European Union for 2050.

2. Are insects good for animal health?

Not only are insects part of the natural diets of fish, poultry or swine animals – but they are also beneficial for animal growth and development. In fact, numerous fish species have gradually adapted their musculoskeletal system and evolved in order to better hunt terrestrial prey, such as insects, while chickens and pigs and known for scratching topsoil in the search for invertebrates, including larvae. Recent evidence shows that the inclusion of insects in the diet of such animals improves their Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR), but also their daily weight gain. Moreover, insects and their derived ingredients can also help in tackling nutrient deficiencies in animal feed, providing nutrients which are generally considered limiting factors in animal nutrition (e.g. certain amino acids). Another promising benefit of insects is the presence of antimicrobial peptides, currently investigated for their potential in the development of novel antibiotics (see the IPIFF Factsheet on the Nutritional Benefits of Insects in Animal Feed).

3. How do animals eat insects?

Fish, chickens or pigs would naturally eat whole insect larvae. However, across Europe, insects are generally incorporated into compound animal feed in order to provide the necessary nutrition to farmed animals. Presently in the EU, aquaculture, poultry and swine species can be fed with insect-derived processed animal proteins (PAPs). Insect-derived lipids can be incorporated into the feed of all food-producing animals. Presently, the authorisation of whole insects is subject to national authorities’ decision (IPIFF pleads for the development of an EU level-playing field for whole treated insects)

4. Can animals eat insects only?

In nature, it is estimated insects could represent up to 70% of the diet of certain Salmonidae species, while experiments have shown that it is possible to feed up to 100% insects to fish. However, in order to provide farmed animals with a balanced diet, it is desired to incorporate insects along with other feed ingredients. Generally, insect-derived ingredients may represent about 5-10% of the compound feed product/animal diet.

5. Will insect proteins substitute soy and/or fishmeal as a protein component in farmed animal feed?

IPIFF is convinced that insects may soon constitute a reliable complement to fishmeal and soy in feed formulae for aquaculture, poultry and swine animals. The ‘regulatory opportunities’ opened by the EU legislator (i.e. aquafeed authorisation as from the 1st July 2017, relaxation of the ‘feed ban’ from the 7th of September 2021) play a key role in the development of the sector. IPIFF does not, however, forecast that insects will fully replace ingredients such as soy meal. Whilst insects have high potential to become a major additional source of protein for species such as pig and poultry animals, the complete substitution of vegetal components might not be desired, due to certain differences in terms of nutrient and/or amino acid profile. Insects’ nutritional characteristics (e.g. protein content, amino acid profile and/or digestibility levels) are more comparable to those of fishmeal products – making them a more pertinent substitute in the diet of certain fish species (e.g. trout or salmon) or shellfish (e.g. shrimps). Since the authorisation of insect proteins in aquaculture feed, the insect sector showed its potential to deliver high-quality products, that have constant characteristics in line with customers’ demand and their targeted use (e.g. for the aquaculture, poultry, pig or pet food market).

6. Are insects suitable for cats, dogs or other pets?

While insects have been widely used as feed for birds, reptiles or circus animals, farmed insects can be incorporated in the diets of companion animals, too. Similarly to their benefits in animals farmed for human consumption, the use of insects in pet food improves the health and development of dogs and cats, for example. In addition, the incorporation of insect-derived ingredients in pet food products reduces their overall environmental footprint –providing a nutritious and sustainable solution for a wide range of companion animals.