Insect Protein in Pet Food: Fad or Solution?
Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry, delivered her expertise on all things pet food, including market trends, news and developments in pet nutrition, food safety, and other industry hot topics.
For several years, insect protein has been making waves in the pet food and human food industries.
Although it is still a new category of pet food ingredients, its potential to serve as an alternative protein source, alleviating shortages of other protein ingredients while also promising to be more sustainable, has drawn a lot of interest, curiosity, research, investment, and media attention.
Insect protein claims account for less than 1% of global pet food product launches, according to Mintel data.
Insect protein ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to sustainability.
Most commercially raised insects are fed upcycled material from the human food supply chain, in addition to using far less land, water, and other resources than traditional animal proteins.
For example, produce that has passed its sell-by date, as well as parts of fruits, vegetables, and other foods that are not typically sold to or consumed by humans are being used to raise insects.
According to study results presented by Brad Ewankiw, product line manager for Enterra, during Petfood Forum 2022, research into insect protein’s nutritional benefits and safety levels for pets is growing, with good results with respect to digestibility, palatability, and safety.
Those findings were specific to black soldier fly larvae (BSFL), but similar research on cricket and mealworm protein is currently underway and being published.
After receiving a brief education about insect protein, 55% of American pet owners were very or somewhat taking an interest in purchasing pet diets containing it, compared to 42% prior to the education.
Kate Vlietstra, associate director for Mintel Food and Drink, stated at Petfood Forum Europe 2022 that 36% of U.K. Buyers of pet food now say they would be interested in foods containing insect protein, up from 21% three years ago.
Is it Just a Fad?
Insect protein is being explored by researchers as animal feed for livestock, in addition to pet food and human food, and experts in that field are skeptical.
For example, Ioannis Mavromichalis, Ph.D., an animal nutritionist and principal of Aniston Nutrition Consulting International, recently wrote that while a good idea, he believed insect farming will fail in the long run.
He went on to say that some experts believed insect farming is just a fad that will fade into the background because it has been pushed predominantly by political and social interests rather than genuine farming support.
Some go even further, comparing insect farming to lab-grown meat or even plant-based meat substitute.
The idea is that all such concepts are ephemeral and that they, like so many other interesting ideas, will fade away.
Also Read: Certain Pet Foods Contain DNA from Endangered Shark Species, Alarming Report Reveals
Encouragement for the Future
Phillips-Donaldson wrote that Mavromichalis, together with the other feed and pet food experts may have the right idea.
She pointed out that insect protein, on the other hand, has a better chance of succeeding, including in the hearts and minds of consumers, than lab-grown meat, partly because the term “lab-grown” is more off-putting than the idea of eating bugs.
Plant-based proteins have been around for quite some time, at least as a niche category, well before their recent rise in popularity, whether incorporated into products with other ingredients or serving as imitation meat products.
All of these alternative protein sources, including insects, lab-grown plants, algal, fungi, and many others, Phillips-Donaldson believes, deserve a chance through research, funding, and attention.
The bottom line, according to the editor-in-chief, is that the world population requires more protein sources for humans and animals, as well as climate change relief.
She concluded her statement by encouraging people to continue looking for ways to meet those needs.
Related article: High Consumption of Bugs May Have Positive Impacts on the Environment
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