Insect-based pet food is becoming increasingly trendy, due to owners worried about the climate costs of traditional pet food. In an attempt to curb the large carbon emissions produced by raising livestock for traditional, meat-based diets, environmentally-minded pet owners are starting to feed their animals meals made out of crickets, black soldier flies, or mealworms as more sustainable alternatives.
According to nutritional experts, farmed species of insects are rich in protein, oils, minerals, vitamins, and high fats. Moreover, when insects are farmed commercially, the levels of emissions, water, and land usage are kept lower than in the case of traditional livestock farming.
“When made into a nutritionally complete pet food, insect proteins can contribute to nutritious and palatable products that can also be environmentally sustainable. Insect-based products offer an alternative for owners who prefer to feed their pets a diet that is sourced from ingredients other than traditional livestock animals,” explained Nicole Paley, deputy chief executive of the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA).
According to PFMA, there are currently seven species of insects authorized by the EU for use as pet food ingredients, which are grown in over 100 farms all over Europe. Rabobank, a Dutch multinational company, estimates that the insect-based pet food industry might increase 50-fold by 2030, when half a million metric tons are projected to be manufactured.
Experts claim that a significant barrier to the smooth development of this industry will be owners’ revulsion to insect-based diets. Yet, as Solitaire Townsend, co-founder of Futerra (which is working together with Mars Petcare to produce Lovebug, its first insect-based cat food) argues, owners should keep in mind that their pets are not so squeamish.
“Cats aren’t squeamish about eating bugs, but some people can be. Of course, millions of people across the world eat insects as normal within their diet. Perhaps in the UK it can feel a bit unusual, but I’m old enough to remember when sushi, and even pasta, was the same way,” she said.
While this transition from traditional to insect-based pet food may have significant benefits, scientists warn that it is not yet clear to what extent such a diet meets the animals’ needs.
“At the moment, there is not enough evidence to support insect-based protein completely replacing current complete pet food diets, but it is another option which could be considered in the future,” said Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association. “Owners should always ensure any changes to a pet’s diet are supervised by a vet with in-depth nutritional knowledge.”