There is a growing trend that could positively impact the reduction of waste from the production of petfood: insect-based petfood.
Would there be demand for insect-based petfood?
To make any type of investment in machinery, research or innovation, it is necessary to know whether or not what you want to implement will be in great demand in the future. In the case of food for dogs and cats based on insect protein, there is a barrier to overcome: the ‘disgust factor’.
Eating insects is not culturally normalised in the west, not even for pets. From this point of view, companies and manufacturers that decide to include this ingredient in their food formulas have to take into account informing and educating about their benefits in order to break this stigma around insect consumption.
The purpose of insect protein in petfood formulae
The answer is simple: sustainability. Replacing animal meat and protein with insects for petfood contributes positively to the sustainability of the production chain.
The number of inputs and resources that are required for the production of meat is very high, taking into account from the food and fertilisers for the animals to the packaging and transport to the sales centres. Conventional industrial agriculture requires large amounts of energy, water and land, and even the welfare of livestock and its polluting effects remain a matter of debate to this day.
It is estimated that between 12 percent and 20 percent of the meat produced worldwide is destined to feed domestic animals.
Protix, the Dutch company that claims to have the largest insect farm in the world, estimates that, compared to beef, insect-based foods use 2 percent of land space and 4 percent of water for every kilogram of protein.
Are these numbers not sustainable enough? As if that doesn’t prove their benefit, insects don’t need fertilisers or pesticides, and they produce very little methane and ammonia emissions.
The founder of Protix states: ‘All over the world we are contributing to the warming of the atmosphere and consuming the Earth. The problem is that we have to continue feeding a population that needs protein. You have to do something different, and insects are part of the solution’.
Following the same message, the president of the British Association of Veterinarians, stated: ‘There is a really exciting future for the use of insect proteins in companion animals. It is essential to find sources of food that do not deplete the soil or water or drive climate change’.
In addition, three other benefits emerge from this main benefit:
- Greater profitability: by needing fewer inputs and resources for its production, costs are reduced, and profitability could increase
- Increase in demand: this characteristic could positively impact attracting more millennial buyers, the age range with the most pet owners today; these types of owners are even willing to pay more for a better quality or more sustainable product. This group also includes the majority of vegetarian cat owners – since felines do need to obtain taurine from meat protein, they may prefer to give their pets food based on insects rather than with beef, chicken, or fish
- Nutritional quality: besides being a good source of protein, insects contain fats, fatty acids, minerals and vitamins. The amount of these nutrients varies between different species
According to the FAO, the nutritional value of insects does not differ from the nutritional value of other meat sources such as chicken, cow, pork and fish.
The situation globally
For now, in the United States, the largest petfood market, insect protein is not yet allowed in daily petfood. Some insect-based treats have been released, but there has been no further progress on this front.
However, the European Union a few years ago approved the use of insect proteins in petfood. Initially, this encouraged the development of the odd dog food here with the ingredient.
In the UK, for example, food with up to 40 percent insect protein can already be seen on shelves. Unfortunately, due to a lack of mass production and infrastructure, this type of food is up to four times more expensive than an average food. Insect protein in petfood is also making its way onto the market in Germany, France and Italy.
Companies dabbling in insect protein
- Ynsect is an insect farming company born in 2011 that uses, unlike many others, mealworms as its main “livestock”. Their insect-based petfood is suitable for dogs, cats, rodents, birds, and reptiles. The product comes in powder and oil form (replacing less sustainable oils like palm oil). It also produces a natural fertiliser
- AgriProtein has its main farm in Cape Town, South Africa. It uses black soldier flies and their larvae to turn organic food waste into meal for fish, poultry, pigs and petfood
- Protix Biosystems, the company founded in 2009, is the creator of Its ProteinX, one of the main ingredients of a new premium dog food that is marketed in the United Kingdom. They also developed a moist food beneficial for intestinal health
- Founded in 2015, Wilder & Harrier of Montreal is developing a line of insect-based dog food and treats made from black soldier flies, crickets and mealworms
- Yora Pet Foods offers a kibble made from insect protein (black soldier fly), oats, potatoes and vegetables
As much as owners humanise pets, cats and dogs will continue to chase and eat all kinds of insects that come their way. If we want to go return to nature and feed pets ‘just as they would in the wild,’ then what would be more appropriate than insects?