Novel insect economy, or the industrial production of insects for food and feed applications, is currently emerging in Nordic countries.

A number of activities related to research and development of insect farming and value chains are advancing locally in several research organisations and private enterprises in the Nordic region. NICE will disseminate the advancements in this field and create a platform where researchers from various disciplines and industry partners can meet, discuss ideas and initiate new projects. A successful development of an insect industry as part of circular economy requires a multi-disciplinary approach with close involvement of industry partners.

Reuse of organic waste

Reuse of organic waste, such as food waste, or organic side streams of food production can be done directly by the end consumer (e.g. composting of household waste) or, in more densely populated areas, more centralized solutions are realized (Biogas Plant). In contrast to the recycling of inorganic matter like metal and glass, which will become metal and glass of a similar quality at best, organic matter is transformed. Most transformations considered to date result in a breakdown of the organic matrix into smaller units that can be burned or become plant fertilizer. As a result, the nutrients have to enter the food chain at a lower trophic level than where they originated. Although composting and biogas production are good alternatives for various organic waste streams (e.g. sewage sludge), there are many organic waste streams that can be used in a different manner. In 1994 the term ‘upcycling’ was introduced by Reiner Pilz. Upcycling means reusing waste in such a way that it results in a product of higher quality or value than the starting material. An example of upcycling of organic waste is the transformation of a carbohydrate-rich material into the higher quality macronutrients protein and lipid. In nature, bacteria, fungi and invertebrates, like insects, carry out this conversion. These organisms fulfil a key role in making nutrients from the plant kingdom available for organisms in the animal kingdom.

Insect farming in Europe

Insect farming in Europe has taken a major leap forward over the last 3-5 years, in particularly following the publication of the FAO report ‘Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security’ in 2013. In 2015, the EU mandated the European Food safety Authority (EFSA) to publish a scientific opinion on the ‘Risk profile related to production and consumption of insects as food and feed’. In the same year, the EU also formally included insects in the Novel Food regulations, while legislative issues related to inclusion of insects as ingredient in animal feed are in progress. The progress in normalizing the use of insects in EU legislation ensures wide marketing opportunities in the EU for insects applied as food, feed, pet food and feed for fur-producing animals. Since 2014, this new business area has gathered increasing attention in neighbouring Nordic countries, e.g. at seminars in Denmark (‘Insects – a new driver in the bioeconomy’, Aarhus, Nov 2014), Sweden (Från trä till mat – framtidens skafferi, Båstad, June 2015) and Finland (‘Catch the Worm’, Turku, Mar 2016) demonstrating the shared interest in the Nordic countries. Insect farming in general has a uniquely small environmental footprint compared to any other terrestrial livestock. Insects emit considerably less greenhouse gases per kg of protein produced and do not compete for agricultural land or fresh water resources. Selected farmed insect species are highly nutritious, providing essential amounts of protein, fats and minerals for both human and animal nutrition. Insect have a far higher feed conversion efficiency as compared to poultry, pigs and cattle. Moreover, the zoonotic risks of insects are practically non-existent as compared to those of conventional livestock (e.g. bird flu and MRSA).

The positioning of an insect farm is largely dependent on the availability of organic streams and on the availability of a market for the insects or insect products. Often this results in two distinct types of insect farming. The first type is based on urban organic waste material that is collected to grow mealworms and/or crickets. The market for these insects is for human consumption, which is most likely to be found in densely populated urban areas. The second type is based on industrial organic side streams, producing mealworm and/or fly larvae for animal feed. In the past year, companies in both directions have been established in the Nordics.

Great for fish

Insects as feed have great potential in Norway. Insects are part of the natural diet for fish and poultry and several studies have demonstrated that insect meal forms an outstanding protein source for farmed animals. A large part of the salmon diet (e.g. soya, rapeseed, and fishmeal) is produced outside Norway. Production of fish feed ingredients in Norway can lower the dependence on imported feed ingredients, especially protein rich ingredients, and simultaneously create jobs in Norway.

NICE can help to establish regional collaboration which will boost expertise and competitiveness, making the Nordic region an important contributor to the emerging insect economy that is sustainable, safe and economically viable. Insects as part of the bioeconomy has the ability to connect biomass value chains and, with particular respect to the Nordic situation, valorise underutilized biomass side streams.