While shopping for your pet’s food, you see and attractive bag or can advertising that its formulation is based in part on insect proteins. Do you buy it?
A report from the BBC says you will, and the British Veterinary Association says it may even be more nutritious for pets than prime beef steak.
According to the report by Roger Harrabin, surveys suggest pet owners are willing to feed it to their pet because of its environmentally friendly footprint.
So why insects? Protix, a Dutch enterprise, claims to have the world’s largest insect farm operating now. They say, “compared with beef, insect-based foods use 2 percent of the land mass and only 4 percent of the water,” to produce an equivalent kilogram of protein.
They go on to say a metric ton of insects can be grown on 20 square meters of space in only 14 days. The waste produced is sold for rich fertilizer.
This all sounds very good, of course, not unlike many other ventures in human commerce, most of which have failed. If true and sustainable, however, this innovation toward insect-based proteins may turn many markets — not just pet food — on their ear.
It is unimaginable that the current craze in human protein drink formulations would suffer. If the proteins being used are derived from insects, dried, ground to a fine powder and mixed with chocolate, who would object? Both taste and texture would likely be indistinguishable from the animal-based proteins now.
Protix makes a few squint-your-eye and tilt your head claims though. The company says its insects don’t eat plastics, thereby avoiding contamination, but admits they still ingest microplastics.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program defines microplastics as those that are less than 5 millimeters in size. That’s about the size of a sesame seed for comparison.
Scientists studying that subject across the spectrum of biology make it clear that microplastics, especially those at the microscopic level, are being found already in virtually all lifeforms including humans. While certainly not benign, the full effect of plastics in biological systems is unknown.
Protix say insect farming uses no fertilizer or pesticides. Perhaps. But consider any monoculture for a moment. Just like a hothouse of tomatoes, should a tomato-loving pest invade the hothouse, the crop is lost without some treatment. So insect monocultures or even mixed cultures are no less immune from predation or disease. Just look what’s happening with honey bees.
It’s no secret the pet food industry is co-dependent on the slaughter of large mammals and the subsequent production of offal. So where would that waste go?
Certainly, some countries find it extraordinary to feed perfectly good hearts or lungs to pets. Those could be exported for human consumption. But what about the rest? Indeed, that would be a problem, especially for the U.S.
Offal production in the U.S. is beyond staggering in its volume. In our diets, we call offal organ meats or variety meats. Today however, it is relatively uncommon for Americans to consume things like tripe (cow stomach), liver, beef tongue, sweetbreads (thymus glands of cows or calves), pig’s feet and veal cheeks to name just a few.
The final question remains, do pets consume insect-based rations when presented? Minimal testing by the BBC in the U.K. show that like most things, pets readily consume the rations presented.
Likely, this will become common. Then marketing will take over and people will say things like, “only organically-grown, whole cricket mash is good enough for my Fluffy.”
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email firstname.lastname@example.org.