Opinion: Insect ‘ache legal guidelines’ might hit meals manufacturing

Opinion: Insect ‘pain laws’ could hit food production

Just before Christmas, a brief but potentially significant message appeared. Scientists at Queen Mary University of London have suggested that insects might feel pain.

According to the university’s website, researchers seem a little concerned that, even though pesticides kill billions of insects each year — when “the actual cause of death is often paralysis, suffocation, or disintegration of internal organs, sometimes over several days” — insects have largely ignored by animal welfare legislation.

About the author

Joy Bowes

Author of the Farmers Weekly Opinion

Joy Bowes, a former solicitor, splits her time between Suffolk and her partner’s 223-acre Hill Farm in the Lake District. It is home to a herd of Galloway cattle. Higher level conservation work has been undertaken with plans for additional trees under Countryside Stewardship.

See also: Opinion – right tree in right place, but what about the weather?

Scientists examined experimental evidence in light of the eight criteria used by the Government to decide which creatures should be included in the Sentience Act 2022.

While some insects met six of the criteria and others only two, none missed all. Therefore, the research team recommends that insects’ ability to feel pain should be officially recognized in this law.

In addition, insects should enjoy the same protections from “unnecessary suffering” afforded to other animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which would mean a legal requirement for “humane slaughter” in insect farms and “more humane pesticides” to protect insects from unnecessary suffering .

Researchers also want insects to be protected from “pain, suffering, distress or permanent harm” by including them in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

Although wouldn’t this result in somewhat hampering research into what exactly an insect considers painless?

If any farmer reading this is tormented by the suffering they have unknowingly caused over the years by zapping insects with insufficiently humane pesticides, I apologize, but it appears that the research is not meeting your plight has taken into account.

So the academics have made their lofty statements, but what’s next?

Well, of course one immediately feels for vegans who now need to seek out foods that are not only plant-based but come with a guarantee that any insects that perished in the making of them have been sung to rest by swarms of angels.

Although even the promise of “humane pesticides” is not enough for some.

I was once solemnly told by a young man trying to convince me of the evils of dairy farming that “It is not possible humanely to kill something that will not die.”

While there’s good reason to be cautious when controlling insect pests, worrying about how they’ll feel when they die seems like another example of indulging in the fine sensibilities of wealthy people who probably never give it a second thought will make where their next meal will come from.

A subsistence farmer threatened by famine is unlikely to care for the welfare of the locusts about to devour his crops.

But what about farmers and breeders in this country?

Is it too fanciful to imagine that the government, in order to come across as thoroughly lovable people, could legislate to protect insects through indiscriminate bans on pesticides before viable substitutes exist?

Maybe I shouldn’t worry. I can do without mothballs and fly spray.

And if yields drop while we look for friendly ways to deal with pesky insects, we can still import food from less ruthless countries.