Black soldier fly (hermetia illucens) on a rose: photo by Didier Descouens
Most of us in the U.S. would prefer it if our proteins came from meat or fish and not from bugs. But bugs are protein-rich and are now being recommended by some food scientists as a substitute for meat, chicken, and fish proteins in pet food.
Squeamish? Me too. But there are several sound scientific reasons for considering the production of insect-based food for pets....
The main reason is that environmental studiesshow that the production of pet food alone accounts for between 20 and 25 percent of the negative environmental impact, the environmental cost including every process between the production of livestock to your dog and cat's feces that must be absorbed somehow into the enviroment.
Trying to reduce the environmental impact of meat and fish production for pet food, several pet food developers are advancing insect-based pet food formulas to provide healthy (some argue healthier) high protein foods for pets. And, so far, Great Britain, Germany, and France have accepted the science and are supporting the sale of insect-rich pet food offerings. The U.S. has not approved insect ingredient pet food; however, bugs can be used in pet treats, as pet treats are not regulated. Make sure you check out all of the ingredients before purchasing insect treats, as other ingredients in the treat may be vegetable proteins like legumes, beans and potatoes, which are not healthyfor pets.
In fact, most insect protein is a viable alternative to meat, poultry, and fish proteinand is eaten among 80 percent of the world's human population. Insects are an inexpensive protein alternative and, proportedly, can be prepared deliciously, blending easily into native cuisine. There's also so much variety! Depending on which peoples are eating them, there are between 1,000 and 2,000 edible insects, subject to cultural and religious beliefs as well as availability.
Fried silk worm pupae sold by a street vendor in Jinan, China: Steven G. Johnson - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Though there are hundreds of varieties of insects consumed by humans, the most popular ones are silkworms, mealworms, buffaloworms, honeybees, Lac insects, Cochineal, crickets, waxworms, and... yes... cockroaches. (via) If you eat these bugs, you're an entomophagist!
Bugs that are now being used in pet food products include black soldier flies, house fly larvae, and yellow meal worms. These insects are farmed, just like cows and pigs are farmed, but the bug farms don't cause havoc to the environment. An additional benefit of cultivating bugs for food is that there would be a positive impact on water conservation, as insects are cold-blooded and need to drink almost no liquid.
Benefits To Pets
More and more pet parents are demanding human grade ingredients in their pets' food. The world's human and pet populations are growing, and there is not an infinite amount of "human grade food" to provide the quantity or quality of animal sources to meet these desires. Additionally, to meet those needs would be even more environmentally destructive.
Insects are said to be very tasty, especially to animals. They are high in protein and contain essential vitamins and minerals, esecially "a high amino acid profile..." and "some species are comparable to chicken or soybean meal." (via) Edible insects also produce fewer food allergies, than meat and fish-based foods. Insects could provide the natural proteins that dogs need and cats absolutely require with no downside.
On its face, and before insect-based pet food has been carefully studied and approved for sale in the U.S., it appears as if insect-based pet food is superior in nutrition to meat-based food, especially in dry pet food recipes. And insect farming would certainly curtail our carbon footprint.
But the nutrients drawn from dry pet food during processing and the footprint made by production alone, are still issues that need to be addressed.