European cow looking over fence Patrick- Baum

Can organic waste, insects be animal feed of the future?

Researchers in Europe seek alternative protein sources for livestock as trade bloc imports more than 70% of protein needs.

Right now, the European Union doesn’t have enough of its own animal feed to nourish livestock, forcing it to bring in supplies from beyond the bloc’s borders. To face this unsustainable dependency, researchers are looking for alternative protein sources, according to a ProBIO announcement distributed by youris.com.

More than 70% of the protein sources required by animals bred in the EU are imported from non-EU countries, the announcement said. Soybean dominates the protein supply for animal feed. This dependency is costly and is subject to fluctuations in markets and prices.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution stating the urgency of replacing at least some of the imported feedstuffs with alternative sources of EU origin.

One of the strategies researchers are investigating is reusing food waste for animal feed, with the help of low-energy consumption technologies. Considering the huge amount of food waste generated in Europe -- estimated at 88 million tons each year -- project NOSHAN identified functional feed ingredients derived from food waste that can be adapted to the needs of animals. A free food waste database has been created that includes the molecular characterizations performed on 42 different waste streams.

Among the nutritional additives successfully tested on animals were oligopectins from sugar beet pulp, peptides from rapeseed press cake and olive pomace extract -- a byproduct of olive pressing. Moreover, a novel process for extracting functional fibers from food waste was tested: Direct hydrolysis of waste proteins turns them into functional proteins that are enriched in active peptides and ideal for targeting animal requirements.

After reviewing other studies in Europe, the Slovenian start-up Eko Gea developed a method to extract the nutrients present in the seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum to obtain a prebiotic food. Algae worldwide are listed among so-called superfoods, which are nutritionally dense and particularly rich in nutrients.

Bugs are on the same superfood list and have become another target for animal feed research. The European PROteINSECT project focused on housefly larvae (Musca domestica), which are rich in highly digestible proteins (between 40% and 60%).

In July, the EU gave the green light for processed proteins derived from insects to be used in aquaculture feed, opening a sustainable development of this kind of breeding. However, there are still barriers to overcome in the development and commercialization of insects as animal feed on a wider scale. Above all, it’s a matter of safety. More research is needed to be sure that the selected bugs are good for animals.

Moreover, the required production effort must be taken into account. For example, 200,000 housefly larvae are needed to produce just 1 kg of food. This means companies must consider whether they are ready to sustain intensive insect farming.

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