“If there are welfare issues, you have to get involved at the planning stage, when these facilities are designed and built,” says Bob Fischer, a professor at Texas State University who works on insect welfare. . Farm designers must consider many factors, including temperature, humidity levels, lighting, insect density, and what they eat. For insect farmers, these are all engineering issues – they want to ensure that as many insects survive as possible and that the farms are cheap to run – but they are also closely related to welfare. animal.
There is good news here. Some insect larvae seem to like living in crowded conditions, says Fotis Fotiadis, founder of Cambridge-based insect breeding startup Better Origin in the UK. He rents containers fitted with trays where farmers can grow their own black soldier fly larvae, pressed 10,000 onto a tray in dark, humid conditions. “What we think is high welfare for animals might not be high welfare for insects. We need to have a new understanding of what insects want to do,” says Fotiadis.
The catch is that we only have a very limited understanding of what insects like to do. Black soldier fly larvae may like crowded conditions, but what about adults? Chittka remembers visiting a facility where adult black soldier flies were kept without food and in crowded conditions. “It seemed strange to me,” Chittka says. Some insect farms—like Better Origin– do not feed adult black soldier flies which are used to rear the larvae, but recent research suggests that adult women live longer and lay more eggs if fed. “Letting the adults lay their eggs and die is what the industry currently tends to do, in line with other animal industries, and will likely remain the status quo until there is a market opportunity for an insect in the world. superior well-being,” says Fotiadis.
An even bigger dilemma is how the insects should be killed. In the EU, most animals must be stunned unconscious before being killed, but no such regulations exist for insects. Insects can be microwaved, steamed, boiled, roasted, frozen or chopped to death. Better Origin larvae are fed live to breeding chickens. We have no idea which killing method is the least painful for insects, beyond the general feeling that a quick death is better than a prolonged death. “Trying to make sure we kill quickly and effectively, given the level of uncertainty, is perhaps one of the most important things we can do,” Fischer says.
The question for Fischer isn’t whether we should breed insects at all – it’s about taking insect welfare more seriously and making sure the industry does too. “Insects as food and feed are happening. He grows up. It’s not going to collapse in the next 10 years,” he says. And the numbers we’re talking about are so vast that even a small improvement in welfare standards could make a difference in the lives of billions of possibly sentient creatures. That’s why Fischer hopes that instead of splitting into opposing camps, animal sentience researchers and the insect farming industry can come together and figure out what insect farming might look like in more high well-being.
And that means two things. First, it’s about working more on animal sentience, especially the handful of most commonly bred species. “For at least these insect species, we would like to have some certainty about what constitutes humane slaughter procedures and acceptable rearing conditions, etc.,” says Chittka. “We need this research now.”
It is also about expanding our sense of animals that deserve our compassion. It’s easy to look a dog or a chimpanzee in the eye and guess that these animals have feelings that we can influence. It is much more difficult to look at a tray of mealworms and make the same observation. If we’re going to start breeding these animals en masse, the best thing to do might be to err on the side of caution.