Insect proteins in pet food: what are we talking about?

Presented by LANI

According to the United Nations, the current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050. To meet the demand for protein from a growing population, annual agricultural production of primary protein will need to increase from 525 million tons to 790 million tons. tons.

A growing concern is having enough food to support this projected global population growth, which has sparked strong interest among government agencies, scientists and food producers in alternative sources of protein, including plants and the insects.

You may be wondering if insects in pet food are an emerging fad or an enduring trend. During this time, you occasionally see an article or news item on a small aspect of this vast and complex topic. But what’s the big picture?

In this article, we’ll attempt to break down a myriad of information on the subject into a condensed status report – essentially, our synopsis of what’s going on and what to expect in the future.

A good place to start is the role that insect protein can play as an alternative to meat protein.

The benefits of insect farming

One of the drivers for the development of an insect protein industry is the sustainability of future protein sources.

In addition to requiring significant land and water resources, meat production is a significant source of carbon emissions. Since around a quarter of the world’s meat production is used to feed pets, advocates of alternative sources of protein are focusing their efforts on the pet food supply chain.

Edible meats from cattle, poultry, and other farmed animals require far more food, water, and land resources than similar amounts of protein produced from farming insects.

Insect farms are efficient, durable and require only a small footprint of land. With a rapid maturation time and high reproductive rates, insects can produce very high protein yields.

Cattle have twice as much protein per pound of product as crickets. However, to produce the same amounts of protein as crickets, cattle need 12 times more feed. The multipliers for sheep, chickens and pigs are 4, 2 and 2 respectively.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there are more than 20,000 insect breeders worldwide and more than 1,900 species of insects are believed to have been used as food.

Why use insects as a source of protein?

Insects, which are considered animals, are a complete animal protein with all nine essential amino acids. According to the FAO, “the nutritional value of insects does not differ from the nutritional value of other meat sources such as chicken, beef, pork and fish”.

In a study of five insects, all had higher scores for total essential amino acids than chicken meal.

Insects also scored higher than chicken meal for digestibility.

Insects provide many additional benefits, such as:

  • Insects are packed with vitamins and minerals, which the body can absorb faster than beef or wheat.
  • Insects are high in antioxidants, which help protect the body against cell damage caused by free radicals.
  • Edible insects are an excellent source of essential fatty acids. Many insects provide an optimal balance of Omega 3:6.
  • Chitlin, the exoskeleton of an insect, is a prebiotic fiber, the food for “good” bacteria that can penetrate deep into the intestines of humans or pets.

While a variety of insect species are used worldwide for human and animal consumption, the primary insect used worldwide in pet food is the black soldier fly (BSF) larvae. BSF larvae are an excellent complement to meat-based protein sources in a complete and balanced pet food.

BSF larvae absorb food and water from fruits, grains and vegetables that would otherwise be wasted. According to Bühler Insect Technology Solution, the environmental benefits of BSF larvae stack up remarkably well compared to chickens. Producing chickens requires about 13 times more land, 7 times more water, 5.5 times more CO2 emissions and 1.5 times more energy.

Jiminy’s, a California company that makes dog food and treats made from black soldier fly larvae and crickets, presents this information on its website:

What are the disadvantages ?

The researchers were concerned about the lack of knowledge regarding the farming of insects. If a non-native species escaped from an insect farm, researchers say, there could be serious environmental damage.

The use of insect protein in livestock feed raises a troubling question: are insects a catalyst for expanding animal production rather than replacing it? An animal welfare newsletter stated, “Insect farming is not an alternative to factory farming — it is a supplier. The legendary effectiveness of insects is therefore a red herring. Feeding corn to bugs and then feeding it to chickens is inherently less effective than just feeding corn to chickens.

A 2020 article by two animal nutrition scientists, G. Bosch and KS Swanson, provided an overview of the current state of knowledge on the use of insects as food for dogs and cats. The paper highlighted various research gaps, including these:

  • Private companies have likely studied the palatability of their insect products, but few have made the data available to the public.
  • No public studies have evaluated the effectiveness of hypoallergenic insect foods in affected dogs or cats.
  • The consistency of stool quality has been studied, but research on other attributes of stool quality is lacking.

Bosch and Swanson concluded, “Several studies have assessed aspects of nutritional quality of various insect species, but the impact of long-term diets on the nutritional status and health of dogs and cats is still unclear. largely unexplored.

The authors also pointed out some gaps in benchmarking in widespread claims that insects are a sustainable source of protein.

Other researchers note that there are risks associated with eating non-produced insects under controlled and defined conditions. Insects can contain toxins, bacteria, pesticides, allergens and anti-nutrients. More research is needed, but the amounts of these contaminants appear to be minimal, are within the ranges commonly seen in meats and grains, and are mostly removed during the production stages.

Scientists say more research is needed

Peer-reviewed research for publication and private research are rapidly evolving on insect proteins for pets. However, many aspects of insect-based pet foods require more research.

For years, the United Nations has played a leading role in promoting insects as a sustainable food source for humans. In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed safety. Drawing on a wide range of scientific research, the book raised international awareness of the contributions that edible insects can make to meet the dietary needs of a growing world population.

FAO followed with additional publications. Tips on Sustainable Cricket Farming, published in 2020, is a comprehensive manual of best practices for keeping crickets. Examine edible insects from a food safety perspectivepublished in 2021, analyzes the food security implications associated with edible insects.

The Bosch and Swanson article mentioned earlier reviewed what is known about the naturalness, palatability, nutritional quality, health effects, and durability of insects as dog and cat food. In the newspaper, titled Effect of using insects as food for animals: pet dogs and cats, the authors said,

“Trends in human nutrition often translate quickly into new pet food products. Insects have received considerable attention as a sustainable and sometimes even health-promoting protein source new to humans. The societal buzz around insects has also resulted in insect-based pet food products appearing on the market, and more products are on the way. »

Commercial pet foods marketed as nutritionally complete should support a dog or cat’s long-term health, the authors said. They reviewed numerous studies evaluating aspects of the nutritional quality of various insect species. However, they noted a glaring lack of research on the nutritional and health impacts of feeding long-term pets insect-based protein.

Meanwhile, new studies may already be filling in some of the research gaps. In 2021, the magazine Animals published a study showing that crickets or mulberry silkworms can be safe substitutes for poultry meal in dog food.

Market acceptance of insect proteins in pet foods will depend on better research and regulatory approvals in the coming years.