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February 2021 Newsletter No 41

Future of Woven Network

What are your views on the future of the Woven Network?

We are at a turning point with Woven. Two things have happened:
- Brexit, UK businesses need to operate within a very different environment and trade with Europe is affected, whatever Ministers say.
- Matt Anderson, co-founder of the Woven Network, CIC Director and our Webmaster, Finance Director and Membership Manager is setting up his own biotech company with investment backing. This means he cannot continue to be involved with Woven.

So, we need to know what you think we should do next.  There are three options:

- We find people with the skills to take over from Matt and equally willing to give their time voluntarily to serve the sector, or who could take it on in its entirety
- The Woven Network undergoes a complete revamp - so that it can serve the needs of the UK sector during these challenging times more effectively.
- We close Woven Network as an entity

Please let us know by following this link to a 6 question web form:
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe74H_vdf29N0qFv2143Wl2XtA1SjTneetUgn7248mDrsRJUQ/viewform?usp=sf_link
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For further details, see below

Jo Wise - Ask an Expert series, 11 December 2020


The following is a summary of the responses of Jo Wise to questions during the webinar that is available now on YouTube
 
Monkfield Nutrition have been breeding insects for 30 years since its earliest beginnings in an A level biology project. The business began in Royston breeding insects for a family aquatic shop and to feed reptiles, but in 2019 moved to new purpose-built premises, augmented with 250 kW of solar panels on the roof. The space is divided into small rooms to allow spaces to be cleaned and disinfected between batches of insects. The reptile business has been unaffected by the pandemic, but the food side has suffered from companies ceasing to develop new products and try new ingredients.
Over the years the biggest problem was in the 1990s, when a virus wiped out the house crickets Acheta domesticus. These are only now being raised again in the new premises. Three other different cricket species, black, banded, and silent are raised as insurance, as well as locusts. Every week about four million crickets and locusts are raised, and a tonne of mealworms and half a million wax moth larvae are imported, with some fruit flies, cockroaches and black soldier fly for the reptile market.
 
The crickets all originate from an initial horde of 5,000 that has never been augmented with fresh stock. Each week 800,000 are obtained without any indication of inbreeding. House and banded crickets are raised in similar environments at 33°C and humidity over 40%, kept at 50-60% with good ventilation. In the early stages they require heat, but at the third to fourth moult they generate heat themselves, and cooling is required. In a 6 x 5 m room there could be 650 kg of crickets in the latter stages.
 
They are harvested as sub-adults at the 3 wing stage to avoid late mortality. Cannibalism is not a major problem if there is no over-crowding and enough feed. The final moult makes them vulnerable to cannibalism that is reduced by earlier harvesting. House crickets are harvested at four weeks and banded at five weeks. The banded have about double the egg lay; so the productivity is about the same. Eggs are removed every day or every other day to avoid the eggs being eaten in breeding groups.
 
The feed conversion ratio with banded crickets is about 1.4 kg feed for 1 kg crickets. This compares with 1.7 kg feed for 1 kg poultry. The feed is adapted high quality poultry feed at £400 per tonne. Silent crickets are given a diet with more cholesterol. Locusts are fed on brassicas at 55 p per kg, 12 tonnes per week, and dried food at a warmer temperature than crickets. The greens are eaten for moisture because the locusts don’t drink. It would seem sensible to use outside leaves or tops left over during harvest, but getting a reliable stream all year has proved unrealistic. If it has to be collected by hand from fields, the cost escalates sharply. No waste is used.
 
The protein content of the general poultry feed used is 28% to start with, then 24% after 2 weeks. There are vitamins and minerals within this diet. Adding some fishmeal improves yield but is not wanted by consumers. Genetically modified soya is also unwanted but using GM free soya increases cost.
 
Eight hour dark and sixteen hour light cycles are used. The light is on when there is work being done in the rooms and the times do not seem to be important as long as there is some dark. Yields are less with constant darkness.
 
In the breeding rooms carbon dioxide and oxygen are not measured. What can be automated is, and maybe more could be later. Automation has capital cost, maintenance, possible faults, and investment may not be recovered if it is not funded by a grant.
 
Everything has been learned whilst going along during production. Research data and published articles can give ideas, but the transfer lab studies to farming is often difficult. There’s been a lot of trial and error, and always learning from mistakes.
 
The fans driving the ventilation are powered by solar and there is a 200 kW biomass boiler that heats the water pipes over which air is blown to heat or cool rooms. Heat is recovered as air exits and is returned to the air handling unit. Locusts at 38°C are rarely cooled, but the adult crickets are. There’s an investigation how to take heat out of adult rooms and introduce it to breeding rooms to reduce power costs. The argument against insect production in temperate climates to save energy costs ignores the huge diurnal temperature changes in some hot climates. Cooling costs in the heat of the day can exceed heating cost in cooler climates if the insects are grown in any density.
 
The frass is not put into the biomass burner that takes only pellets. It has always been spread on fields by local farmers without generating income. It is now being tested in a hydroponics system, but the user requires it first to have impurities removed and be frozen for 48 hours to kill eggs, larvae and beetles. It could be a useful garden fertiliser if there were time to develop it.
 
Crickets are housed in ordinary bins without lids. There is a drip feed watering system and a lid would add to the work if they had to be removed and replaced at every inspection. New bins will be smooth sided to reduce crickets clinging to the walls.
 
The substrate for the breeding bins is not reused and the peat content is being replaced. Reusing the substrate would allow beetles and disease to build up. The breeding bins are incubated at the same ambient temperature as the growing bins and the temperature of the substrate itself is not measured. Hatch times for banded crickets are 8 days and for black crickets 7 days; so substrate is changed every two days. For locusts it is every day.
 
Flies and two beetles are regular pests. The rooms are cleaned out and disinfected after every cycle to control them. There have not been large scale escapes of non-native insects to the surrounding countryside. There were regulations within the planning consent for bespoke use of the building, and control measures are required. Insects do escape, but the cold of winter will kill them and there was a thriving bird and hedgehog population around the Royston site.
 
 

Insects for food

 
There was some momentum for insects as food before it was lost during the Covid-19 pandemic. Whole dried insects were a bigger market than processed flour. The question ‘why would you eat insects?’ has still to be answered. Cricket Foods have proposed the sustainability argument. Crickets will have to find their place, and processing is still expensive.
 
To prepare insects for consumption they are kept with moisture but no food for 24 hours in a cool room for them to empty their gut. They are then frozen, washed, and filtered to remove any beetles, then dried. A microwave drier raises temperature to 130°C and kills off microorganisms. Throughout, records of every input and output must be kept for traceability.
 
The EU novel food regulation transitional period has been extended. Mealworms have in January received approval. Monkfield Nutrition joined with the Belgian Insect Industry Federation to promote crickets. More information was requested by the EU and this was provided from pooled data, but the EU wanted all data to come from a single farm. Despite this obstacle, insects are still being produced and sold. Thailand crickets were taken off the list of novel foods but are back on again and tend to be cheaper even with transport costs. To compete on price, producers must maximise yield from every piece of the production site.

Beyond Brexit DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency have indicated that they will adopt EU rules initially without defining the position of insects in the intermediate regulations in Northern Ireland.

For the future, there is huge interest in insects as food, and diverse products are available. The novelty of whole dried insects will likely be overtaken by flour when the price falls as its niche is found and its use grows. In food for humans, even a small niche would be a large market. There is not enough production at present to take up a large percentage of any market. All protein has to compete against whey and the flour market is saturated regarding protein. Sustainability may be the reason for insects to find their place, but they must overcome the perception that insects should be cheap because they are small and plentiful.

EFSA opinion on mealworms


The European Food Safety Agency has received 156 applications for "novel food" safety assessments since 2018, covering everything from algae-derived foods to an array of insect species. On 13 January they published their opinion on the safety of mealworms: doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2021.6343
 

Abstract


Following a request from the European Commission, the EFSA Panel on Nutrition, Novel Foods and Food Allergens (NDA) was asked to deliver an opinion on dried yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor larva) as a novel food (NF) pursuant to Regulation (EU) 2015/2283. The term yellow mealworm refers to the larval form of the insect species Tenebrio molitor. The NF is the thermally dried yellow mealworm, either as whole dried insect or in the form of powder. The main components of the NF are protein, fat and fibre (chitin). The Panel notes that the levels of contaminants in the NF depend on the occurrence levels of these substances in the insect feed. The Panel notes that there are no safety concerns regarding the stability of the NF if the NF complies with the proposed specification limits during its entire shelf life. The NF has a high protein content, although the true protein levels in the NF are overestimated when using the nitrogen‐to‐protein conversion factor of 6.25, due to the presence of non‐protein nitrogen from chitin. The applicant proposed to use the NF as whole, dried insect in the form of snacks, and as a food ingredient in a number of food products. The target population proposed by the applicant is the general population. The Panel notes that considering the composition of the NF and the proposed conditions of use, the consumption of the NF is not nutritionally disadvantageous. The submitted toxicity studies from the literature did not raise safety concerns. The Panel considers that the consumption of the NF may induce primary sensitisation and allergic reactions to yellow mealworm proteins and may cause allergic reactions in subjects with allergy to crustaceans and dust mites. Additionally, allergens from the feed may end up in the NF. The Panel concludes that the NF is safe under the proposed uses and use levels.
 

Novel food regulations in Belgium

The Belgian Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment have published advice for the application of ‘novel food’ regulation regarding insects for human consumption in Belgium.

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Publication

 
Russell PS, Knott G. Encouraging sustainable insect-based diets: The role of disgust, social influence, and moral concern in insect consumption. Food Quality and Preference 2021 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2021.104187
 
Abstract
Disgust, social influence, and moral concern play a role in insect consumption. Two studies were conducted to examine the perceived barriers and benefits of insect consumption, and how disgust can be counteracted. First, a cross-sectional study (N=600) showed that disgust and moral concerns were unique predictors of individual’s willingness to consume insect products. Second, we conducted an experiment (N=19) to examine whether knowledge that someone else consumes an insect-based product impacts one’s own willingness to consume insects. In this study we replicated Hartmann, Ruby, Schmidt, and Siegrist (2018) methodology of giving information about an insect consumer but added details about the individuals’ occupation and what type of product they consumed, examining how these factors impacted individual’s willingness to consume insect-based products. We found that this information did not impact willingness to consume; however, it did influence feelings of disgust and perceived acceptability. This study also replicated the first study by demonstrating that disgust and moral concern are barriers to insect consumption. We hope this triggers research to examine how disgust can be counteracted, and to understand the role of moral concern in insect consumption.
 
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