Insects: The Pet Food Protein of the Future?

In the not so distant future, your pet store may begin carrying bags of Grasshopper and Rice or Mealworm and Potato pet foods on their shelves. Population growth, climate changes and agricultural, fishing and hunting methods are having a great impact on the worldwide protein supply. The move to feed our pets the same as ourselves is adding greater demand for protein. A sustainable solution that is being considered is the use of insects as a protein source for pet food.


The Case for Insect Protein in Foods

Presently, nearly one-third of the world human population includes insects as part of the daily diet. Insects, particularly mealworms, provide protein and omega-3 fatty acids that are comparable to the amounts found in meat and fish.

Insect farming is much more efficient and sustainable. Most insects can be raised using waste from slaughter plants, grain mills, food processing plants and restaurants. Raising livestock requires much greater resources. It is estimated that 70% of grains and cereals produced are fed to livestock. It is also estimated that each pound of meat requires 2,400 gallons of water.

Insects are very efficient in food conversion. Crickets require only one-half pound of food to produce 1 pound of body weight. It takes 20 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef, 10 pounds to produce 1 pound of pork and 5 pounds to produce 1 pound of fish and chicken. 80% of a cricket’s body is edible compared to only 55% of the body of poultry and pork and 40% of the body of cattle.

30% of the world land mass is presently used to graze or raise food for livestock. Insect farming requires far less land use. The farms themselves can be contained in relatively small facilities. Insects emit fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia than livestock, making insect farms much more environmentally friendly.

Worldwide there are an estimated 1,900 species of insects that are considered edible. They inhabit a wide variety of climates. Such biodiversity and environmental flexibility makes insect farming much less restrictive than raising livestock. Large buildings with controlled environment are also possible. This allows production in urban industrial sites with local access to an ample supply of food waste. The farms could be co-joined to pet food manufacturing facilities and reduce transportation costs.

Many species of edible insects naturally cluster in large groups. This eliminates animal welfare concerns that are common with farming practices of livestock. Little is known about the pain perception of insects. This combined with an indifferent or disgusting attitude toward insects is unlikely to evoke public concern over methods of killing insects.

Livestock harbor diseases that are contagious to humans. Zoonotic diseases, like “bird flu,” “West Nile,” and “mad cow” have caused widespread epidemics in many parts of the world, including the U.S. Such zoonotic disease potential is unlikely with insect farming. Insects are more distantly related to humans than mammals, and they are cold-blooded. This makes the adaptation of zoonotic diseases in insects difficult.

Feeding insects to pets is not new. Owners of small reptiles and some birds feed insects to these pets. It only requires a change in attitude about eating insects that keeps them from becoming part of the diet of cats and dogs.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Composite from ra2studio and Allween / Shutterstock