Supermarket chain Wm Morrison is replacing soya-based chicken feed with insects to produce “carbon neutral” free range eggs, as part of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from its agricultural supply chains.
Cambridge start-up Better Origin will provide insect mini farms for feed to 10 egg suppliers to the UK’s fourth-largest grocer, the retailer said on Wednesday.
The automated farms housed in shipping containers are run on artificial intelligence and will produce insects fed on waste from Morrisons’ fruit and vegetable processing site in Yorkshire in a “circular agriculture” scheme.
The 320,000 free-range hens on the 10 farms will also be fed a supplementary diet of British beans, peas and sunflower seeds. Morrisons aims to start selling its carbon neutral eggs laid by insect-fed chickens next year, although the pricing has yet to be determined.
Insects are a natural feed for chickens, but rearing the birds indoors means that the bulk of the feed comes from soyabeans and grains. Environmental campaigners have linked soyabeans in chicken feed to Amazon deforestation as well as the destruction of biodiversity hotspots in Brazil.
According to the British Free Range Egg Producers Association, the largest contributor to emissions on a free range egg farm is bought-in feed, which typically makes up more than 85 per cent of an egg’s carbon footprint.
Morrisons’ announcement comes as Stonegate Farmers in Wiltshire last month launched its carbon neutral Respectful eggs in J Sainsbury stores. The hens are a high-productivity breed, which are given soya-free feed which is made of locally milled field beans, such as lupins, mung beans and peas.
Sophie Throup, head of agriculture at Morrisons, said the supermarket chain had pledged to be completely supplied by “net zero” British farms by 2030. The retailer recently launched a seaweed feed project for cows to cut methane emissions, and she said the retailer’s egg farmers had suggested the use of insects to cut down the amount of soya fed to hens.
Insects could well become the future for feed in egg farming, she said, adding: “Reducing soya from livestock feed is one of the key challenges for farms needing to lower their carbon footprint and we wanted to help find a solution.”
Fotis Fotiadis, chief executive of Better Origin, said that his ambition was to roll out the insect project across all Morrisons’ 60 egg farms, which would reduce just under 35,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, equal to emission reductions of 16,500 cars. Better Origins’ on-site insect farms reduced transportation needs and maintained nutrition of the black soldier fly larvae fed to the hens, Fotiadis added.
Studies have shown that feeding insects, which are rich in essential proteins and other nutrients, to chickens was beneficial to the health of chickens while reducing behavioural problems.
Insects can replace grains, soyabeans, fish and vegetable oils in the pellets fed to animals and fish, providing essential proteins and other nutrients. They can be reared on organic agricultural waste and minimal amounts of water.
The EU in September approved the use of insect proteins in poultry and pig feed, on top of use as fish feed. The move follows the EU’s food safety regulator announcing at the start of this year that the yellow mealworm was safe for human consumption, although the use of insects in human food in the west remains a niche area.