- The future of animal farming is taking shape in a small city in central Illinois. A startup called InnovaFeed is building a production site that will house more farmed animals than any other location in the history of the world. But the animals in question are not cows, pigs or chickens – they are black soldier fly larvae.
- When the facility is fully operational, InnovaFeed hopes to produce 60,000 metric tonnes of insect protein from the fly larvae each year. By one conservative estimate, that amounts to around 780 billion larvae killed annually. If you lined up that many larvae end-to-end, the line would stretch from Earth to the Moon and back 25 times.
- Interest in insect farming is booming. Insects have been heralded as a sustainable alternative to traditional animal agriculture, with a litany of articles touting the environmental benefits of insect protein. Socially minded investors have piled into the space, with recent funding rounds totalling more than $950 million. InnovaFeed plans to construct 20 production facilities by 2030. The company competes against the likes of AgriProtein in South Africa and Ÿnsect in France, both of which harbour comparably ambitious goals. The industry is small now, but poised to grow 50 times larger in the next decade.
- Lost in all the hype is an uncomfortable question: do we want to encourage a food system that farms animals by the trillion?
- What does taking insect welfare seriously mean for ordinary people? We can all strive to harm insects less in our own lives. For instance, there are simple actions we can take to make our homes and businesses less inviting to insects. Examples include fixing water leaks, reducing soil-to-wood contact around the building, keeping plants a few feet away from the foundation, and turning off outdoor lights at night. These actions would all reduce the risk that insects will enter buildings, which, in turn, would reduce the need for a lethal insecticide. We can also create a safer future world for insects through scientific research, compassionate attitudes, and humane education and advocacy.
- We might find these ideas hard to accept, since we have strong biases against insects, and since the idea of reducing the harm we cause to insects at scale is daunting. But if we support policies that are better for insects and humans alike, then we can reduce harm to many insects in the short term while building the tools that we need to answer harder questions in the long run.
- Jeff Sebo is clinical associate professor of environmental studies, affiliated professor of bioethics, medical ethics, philosophy and law, and director of the animal studies MA programme at New York University. He is also on the executive committee at the NYU Center for Environmental and Animal Protection and the advisory board for the Animals in Context series at NYU Press. He is co-author of Chimpanzee Rights (2018) and Food, Animals, and the Environment (2018), and the author of Saving Animals, Saving Ourselves (2022).
- Jason Schukraft is a senior research manager at the think-tank Rethink Priorities in California. Before joining the RP team, he earned his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin. He specialises in questions at the intersection of epistemology and applied ethics.
- This is an important paper which makes a lot of good points. The Comments and replies are also worth reading, and I've saved them to PDF lest they disappear. I found the responses by Jason Schukraft refreshingly honest and even-handed. Jeff Sebo, however, never has anything to learn from his opponents.
- One important point is the environmental one that a supposed justification might actually be the reverse of what is claimed. Because of the 'yuck factor' most of these farmed insects will be consumed by animals as cheaper animal feed. I did wonder, though, whether this rebuttal is as strong as is suggested. Do cattle fart as much if fed on insects than they do when eating grass?
- But all this isn't the main point - which is the distress caused to the insects on the presumption that they are sentient. This is too complex an issue for me to deal with at the moment.
- Enough to say that - given the very high percentage of insects that get eaten before maturity - and the same goes for fish spawn - hence the huge size of their 'litters' - what would be the evolutionary point of giving them the - presumably expensive - capacity for sentience when there's nothing larvae or fry can do to escape predation. It's purely a lottery.
- Also, are we really to be filled with grief when we walk across - or mow - the lawn - as one commentator remarked.
- Also, we're in competition against 'pests' - reference 'Frank's cauliflower' - no insecticide so it was covered in black fly, which got boiled, but no-one ate the cauliflower.
- That said, gratuitous harming of any creature that's just going about its business is something that's bad for them – whether they know it or not – and bad for us.
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