The Buzz on Insects in Dog Food
Do you wonder why it’s so difficult to find a dog food that’s right for your dog? Or why the information you read about dog foods seems to be aimed at other people and not you? Maybe it’s because it is aimed at other people. Maybe we’re reading information put out by public relations groups and it’s not true at all.
I’ve been writing about dog food for over 20 years online, in books, for companies, for blogs, but pet food is always changing. In order to try to stay current with the latest news, I get newsletters from farm groups, the feed industry, regulatory bodies, the pet food industry, pet food processors, and half a dozen other groups involved with getting raw materials made into dog food and ready for people to purchase for their dogs.
Do you know what many of these groups are discussing at the moment? Sustainability and premium packaging. Making pet food packaging more sustainable. How often do you worry about these things when you’re trying to choose a food for your dog? Are they even in your top 10 concerns when you buy a dog food?
I also read lots of articles aimed at trying to convince me that insect protein is the greatest thing since kibble was invented. Who exactly is demanding the use of insects in dog food? Do you know any dog owners or breeders who get up in the morning thinking, “Oh, wow. I hope they hurry up and make that food with the insect protein!”
In January 2021, the Ingredient Definition Committee of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approved black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) as an ingredient in adult maintenance dog food and treats. Full approval is expected by August 2021. Use in cat food is expected to be approved in 2022.
The European Union is already ahead of the U.S. in approving the use of insects in dog foods as a source of protein. Insects have been on the market in other countires in dog foods for several years. Pet food giants such as Nestle Purina and Mars have joined the competition with Purina launching Beyond Nature’s Protein in Switzerland in November 2020. It includes black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) as one of its protein sources. Mars announced the introduction of its food, Lovebug, in the UK in April 2021, also using black soldier fly larvae (BSFL).
(If you are wondering why I continue to spell out black soldier fly larvae along with the initials BSFL, it’s because I want to be completely certain that you recognize this name and the letters if you see them on a package of dog food.)
Along with black soldier flies, crickets and mealworms are also being used as insect proteins in dog foods. At least one company in France that produces mealworms also makes human food ingredients made from mealworms. EnviroFlight, based in the U.S., has announced plans to develop a research and development center in North Carolina in 2022 to develop its production of black soldier fly larvae (BSFL).
In Canada, Enterra has opened a large, commercial-scale black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) research and production facility in British Columbia.
The entry of Nestle Purina into the pet food/insect market has drawn attention to this pet food category but companies have been moving in this direction for years. Why?
Analysts for PetfoodIndusty.com suggest that the idea of using insect protein is because of its sustainability.
The main reasons for this increasingly [sic] popularity revolve around sustainability, first in the sense of being able to provide sustainable supplies of food, especially proteins, for pets and humans as populations increase globally and demand for protein rises in tandem. In terms of broader sustainability, including impact on the environment, insect production has been shown to use substantially fewer resources in terms of land, water and, to a lesser extent, energy, and also to create much less waste, than traditional livestock production.
But there’s more. Insect excrement, called “frass,” is also a viable product for converting to bio-gas. And insects that are raised for protein can be fed by-products from human food that could otherwise go to waste. For example, a company called Beta Hatch has conducted research that shows mealworms can safely consume grains contaminated with mycotoxins. They can turn materials that would otherwise have to be dumped into a revenue source for farmers and pet food companies.
Many of these companies are banking heavily on consumer acceptance – even demand – for insect protein in pet foods. Where do they get this idea? How many of you would be willing to buy dog food if you know it uses insects as a source of protein? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the public would be happy to buy dog food made from insects. I just seem to know a lot of people who have spent the last few years worrying about feeding their dogs foods with the best ingredients they can find. They worry about how food is made, where it comes from, who handles it, and every single ingredient. Now, suddenly, those same people are going to be willing to feed their dogs black soldier fly larvae (BSFL), crickets, and mealworms instead of lamb, fish, and bison?
Pet food is projected to be the second largest category in terms of consumption of insect protein by 2030 with pets consuming 150,000 metric tons.
At this time, researchers are looking to prove the nutritional benefits of insect protein for dogs and cats. This is part of the regulatory approval process but they will need to do this anyway if they hope to convince people to buy their foods. They are also engaged in consumer research to determine if pet owners in North America and Europe will accept insects as ingredients in pet foods. Perhaps they should have done some of this research before they moved ahead so rapidly.
Before you believe some of the headlines about the success of insect protein in pet food, remember that the researchers are still doing the nutritional research; and the companies are still engaged in consumer research to see if the foods would be accepted.
According to one University of Pennsylvania study, American pet owners said that they would be more willing to consider a pet food that contained an ingredient such as insect flour versus dried whole insects. At the moment, many of the insect proteins being used or studied for pet food are in meal or oil form. All together, some 70 percent of the study participants said they would be “willing to try insects in some form.” Ah, but you know how studies can twist answers.
We found other surveys online that had very different responses. In one survey from 2018 that asked questions of people in 13 countries, people from eight of the 13 countries gave resounding “no” responses (Japan, Russia, Spain, India, Australia, UK, USA, and South Africa). In fact, the responses in those countries were labeled as “disgust” with the idea of eating insects. One country was tempted (Brazil). Four countries were willing to try (China, Thailand, Peru, Mexico). Males were more willing to try insects than females in most countries. The study included a total of 7800 consumers, with 630 participants per country.
One critic suggests that there is a political agenda behind this push to feed our dogs and cats insects.
What's the connection between insect protein, "fake meat" from plants, and lab-engineered "beef and chicken cultures?" The answer is, none of these has any long term data to prove that it's optimal or healthy for canines or felines. It's an example of the attitude that says "they're only dogs and cats, let's try it with them and see how it goes."
… If this were only about new frontiers in the science of nutrition for humans and animals, it would seem like a reasonable and necessary exploration. We don't know what the near or far future brings, and science should move the needle forward to discover new food sources as future insurance, both for people and pets. But there is an element of politics on the plate here as well, and mixing politics with nutrition should give us pause.
The political agenda is one that originates from the radical philosophy epitomized by PETA and supported by many other so-called "animal rights"groups. This ideology openly advocates for the eventual elimination of all animal agriculture on planet Earth. After all, the reasoning goes, how can we in good conscience feed meat to our carnivorous companions when the planet is running out of food, and the evil meat industry is right up there with private automobiles as the perpetrator of planetary destruction?
The fact is, there is currently no worldwide "food shortage." Hunger is indeed a serious problem but it's caused by poor worldwide distribution, poverty, and government intervention, not a lack of production ...
Personally, I’m a pet food cynic. Politics may drive some groups. I usually tend to think that companies look at the bottom line. Using insect protein in pet foods must be vastly cheaper for pet food companies than buying meat protein or even peas, legumes, and lentils. Companies can toss around terms like “sustainability” as much as they like but I’m not feeding my dogs insects in order to fatten their bank accounts. I doubt that there is actually much of an outcry for insect protein in pet foods at all. Don’t believe everything you read online.
For the last 15 years or more, pet food marketers convinced many people that they needed to feed their dogs a grain-free diet, whether it was nutritionally appropriate for their dogs or not. Now some owners are facing a backlash with dogs experiencing a dietary form of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) that appears to be due to shunning grains. There was never any research to backup the switch to grain-free diets unless your dog actually had an allergy to a specific ingredient. Grains were needlessly vilified for more than a decade. It turns out that corn, which has been called a garbage ingredient and filler for years, is one of the best ingredients you can have in your dog’s food because it is a source of the amino acid compounds that your dog needs.
Before dog owners rush to embrace insect protein at the expense of more traditional forms of animal protein in their dog’s diet, let’s try to learn from this lesson. Wait for peer-reviewed, unbiased animal studies to prove that insect protein is beneficial for dogs and that it doesn’t come with harmful side effects later. Your dogs depend on you to make wise decisions for them. Their lives depend on you and what you feed them.