“I would certainly consider feeding my dogs insects as a reward or a training reward,” says Laurie Dunbar, a veterinarian at Pierrefonds Animal Hospital in Montreal.
Sally Anscombe | DigitalVision | Getty Images
How do the larvae of the black soldier fly taste? Stilton and cheese biscuits. At least that’s how the British start-up Yora Pet Foods describes its dog food made from beetles.
Founded in 2019, Yora introduced the first insect protein pet food sold in the UK. Aimed at environmentally conscious pet owners, it expects to have shipped over 200 tons of product to more than 200 countries and to generate over $ 2.8 million in sales. The business is part of a movement in which manufacturers in North America, Europe and beyond are trying to make pet foods more sustainable and environmentally friendly by using proteins made from insects instead of animals.
“We anticipate that insect protein will be adopted by more pet owners as a viable and marketable alternative to traditional meat as consumers become more aware of their own carbon footprint – and the carbon footprint of their pets,” says Yora, the director Glenn Rankin, adding that pets consume an estimated 20% of meat and fish consumption in their countries.
Livestock, climate and culinary changes
Despite the concerns of some scientists about the many unknowns associated with large-scale agriculture, insects are already an emerging trend in sustainable food for humans.
According to a 2017 Dutch review study, the benefits of insect farming compared to livestock farming include: less land and water requirements, less greenhouse gas emissions, high feed conversion efficiency, and use as animal or water feed. A 2020 study by researchers from the UK and Germany, which presented the first analysis of its species, concluded that the impact of pet food “would have an environmental footprint about twice the UK land area and cause greenhouse gas emissions” . from pet food about the 60th country with the highest emissions or equivalent to the total emissions of countries like Mozambique or the Philippines. “
With this in mind, a panel of the European Commission recently approved a bill that would certify mealworm beetle larvae, also known as yellow mealworm, as safe for consumption – the first insect approved in the bloc of 27 nations. The maggots can be eaten whole and dried or as an ingredient. ‘The use of insects as an alternative source of protein is not new and insects are eaten regularly in many parts of the world,’ the commission noted.
With the support of Robert Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition investment group, French yellow mealworm-specialist Ynsect announced in April that it had acquired Dutch rival Protifarm, a manufacturer of mealworm ingredients for humans. Ynsect will now have a total capacity of over 230,000 tons of ingredients per year.
For many people, however, beetles are less than appetizing. By comparison, getting our furry friends to feast on insects might be a stroll in the park. Startups and long-established companies are introducing mistakes to transform the pet food market, which was valued at around $ 42 billion in the U.S. in 2020, according to the American Pet Products Association.
“I would certainly consider feeding insects as a reward or training reward for my dogs,” says Laurie Dunbar, a veterinarian at Pierrefonds Animal Hospital in Montreal, who doesn’t like bugs herself but believes they are good for dogs and others Animals naturally make sense to consume them. “I would also have no problems with insects as a source of protein in a formula tailored to the dog’s age and lifestyle. … I’d like to recommend it to customers looking for eco-friendly alternatives to meat-based diets and for pets with allergies to traditional protein sources. “
Demand for insect protein
According to a report by RaboResearch, a Dutch research group on food and agribusiness, from 2021, the demand for insect protein as an ingredient in pet and feed could reach half a million tonnes in 2030, compared to around 10,000 tonnes today. “The insect industry is on its way to growing in size, supported by investments and partnerships. Efficiencies from increasing technology, automation, improvements in genetics and legislative changes will also enable costs to be reduced, “the report noted, adding that doubling or quadrupling production volume will take much less time once the half-million mark is reached is.
“While the sustainability aspects and the functional advantages support the growth in demand, the high costs and prices, the currently limited production capacities and the legislation are the main factors limiting the growth of insect proteins,” said RaboResearch in the introduction of the report.
In March, Mars Petcare, part of the confectionery giant Mars, announced Lovebug, a dry cat food made without traditional beef or poultry protein. It is made from insect meal from the black soldier fly larvae and sold in the UK. The feed is aimed at “pet parents” who care about sustainability, as insects claim 80% less land than beef per kilogram of protein, according to Mars. In addition, the larvae are fed with excess vegetables and plants and obtained from a farm that runs on 100% renewable electricity.
Dogs will eat it, but the biggest obstacle is getting consumers to accept it with open arms.
Phillip Cooper, PetIndustryExpert.com
Last November, Nestlé launched a Purina pet food that contains fly larvae and plant and animal protein. Purina Beyond Nature’s Protein for Dogs and Cats was launched in Switzerland and is available in two formulations: one based on chicken, pork liver and millet and the other based on proteins from black soldier fly larvae, chicken and broad beans.
“We have carefully balanced the contribution of different sources of protein, including insects, in our cat and dog recipes to meet their specific nutritional needs,” said Dan Smith, head of Nestlé’s global pet care strategic business unit. “Consumer acceptance is promising. We carried out research in December 2020 and found that a clear majority of Swiss consumers who tried the range confirmed that their pet likes the product and that they would buy the product again. ”
US pet food market
The pet industry has boomed during the pandemic, with pet purchases and introductions increasing, pet spending hitting a record in 2020, and the trend being so intense that veterinarians are struggling to keep up with demand . After the introduction of cricket-based treats in recent years, more insect food could hit North America during this peak pet season.
HOPE Pet Foods is a spin-off from the University of Toronto that was founded in 2020. This summer, the company plans to release treats and foods based on alternative proteins such as algae and black soldier fly larvae.
“We know that dogs love the nutty taste of our products, which is characteristic of the insect ingredients we use,” says HOPE co-founder and CEO Sofia Bonilla, who learned about the alternative proteins as a postdoc in the Netherlands. “Alternative proteins can offer the same, if not better, nutritional profiles to the foods we currently consume, and they are much less expensive to produce.”
Phillip Cooper, a California-based pet industry expert, says US insect food sales account for less than 2% of sales, but pet food manufacturers are always looking for new and better sources of protein.
“I assume this trend will continue to grow and it appears that cricket protein is the most popular and abundant,” says Cooper. “Dogs will eat it, but the biggest obstacle is getting consumers to accept it with open arms.”
He says “the healthy crowd” – consumers who care about sustainability and the environment – will encourage new ideas, but most large retailers are generally waiting for wider adoption and are price conscious. “Until we see major investors investing in supply chain, packaging and advertising, I expect this segment to grow in the single digits annually,” said Cooper.
US regulations could soon change to allow more beetles in pet food. In general, ingredients used in animal feed must either be approved food additives or generally recognized as safe (GRAS) according to the Food and Drug Administration. In consultation with state feed control officials, the FDA recognizes ingredients as acceptable for animal feed in the official publication by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
The AAFCO Ingredient Definition Committee has voted to accept dried black soldier fly larvae for use in adult dog food. However, the ingredient has not yet been released by AAFCO as it has not gone through all of the required steps, an FDA spokesman said. AAFCO did not respond to a request for comment.
“The use of insects in pet food would require a safety and benefit assessment through a petition for food additives, unless the ingredient is GRAS for use in pet food to be legally marketed,” the spokesman said. “It is important to note that insect proteins, such as animal or vegetable proteins, can come from a variety of sources, so any type of insect protein (e.g. crickets, flies, worms, different types of larvae) must be evaluated . and approved separately. In addition, the way in which the insects are reared can compromise safety and must be taken into account. “