A Nuffield Farming Scholarship report by Adam Banks, published recently, explores the opportunities and challenges for farming insects for food in the UK. Through meetings with academics, entrepreneurs and industry organisations around the world he has built up a picture of the current state of the sector and proposes ideas about what the future might hold. There is mounting evidence that a diet enriched with insects may be beneficial for health and the environment. Although Western dietary prejudices are difficult to overcome, a recent YouGov survey found that a third of Britons expected insect consumption to be commonplace by 2029 and this mirrors industry forecasts, which predict strong growth for the sector over the next decade.
Despite the number of companies around the world that are rearing insects for human consumption is increasing rapidly, almost all insect-based food products sold in the UK contain insects which are imported from North America, South East Asia or other European countries. There appears to be a good opportunity for local producers to command an increased domestic market share. The sector should further benefit from new EU novel food legislation which has specific provisions for insects. Although disruptive in the short term, these regulations, which are explored in detail in the report, will serve to increase safety standards and public confidence going forward.
Despite this optimistic outlook there are still significant technical hurdles to overcome, a lack of automation means labour costs are high and efficiency is further reduced by the small scale of most farming operations. Furthermore, large European insect producers have lobbied successfully for favourable policy changes in Brussel. Outside the European Union, the UK stands to fall further behind its European competitors without similar support.
The report concludes that insect agriculture has the potential to help the UK achieve the goals of a future national food strategy and that government support will be essential to create an environment in which the sector can thrive.