Buzzing: Insect welfare
Hello friends, I hope you’re all keeping well. It has been a very very busy couple of weeks so this week there is no In Other News section because a) I didn’t see anything obvious and b) I didn’t have time to go and look further. I still managed to make muffins though (priorities).
This week in Buzzing:
The questions around insects’ sentience and their welfare is urgent and topical
News? What news?
Test Corner: Cricket and carrot muffins
I mentioned last time that the Royal Entomological Society (RES)’s Insects as Food and Feed conference would provide enough material for the next three newsletters: here is the next instalment. It is about insect welfare. Meghan Barrett’s presentation on the topic was a revelation: not only was her delivery masterful (I am in awe of people who do not um and arr), many of the points she raised floored me because they highlighted how little we know about this topic.
For starters, there is no scientific proof (yet) that insects are sentient. This is kind of big deal: if insects weren’t sentient, the notion of welfare would be redundant. The broad consensus seems to be however that they are (when asked who thought insects could be sentient, most people in the audience raised their hands, myself included).
Meghan and her co-researcher’s research was based on the “five freedoms” model of animal welfare, which serves as the foundation for many animal welfare assessments. They are:
Freedom from hunger and thirst
Freedom from discomfort
Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
Freedom to express normal behaviour
Freedom from fear and distress
Looking at just the first freedom, it has been generally assumed since studies were done on commercially rearing Black Soldier Fly in the early 2000s that adults do not feed and simply live off energy reserves acquired at larval stage. This has meant that adult flies in most BSF farms are kept without food. Yet a growing body of evidence is now questioning this assumption: studies show that adult BSF actually can and do feed on honeydew and nectar in the wild and that providing sugary water in farms could significantly increase their longevity, and perhaps even help with egg laying yields.
Another important area Barrett discussed was welfare during slaughter. There is currently no data on the welfare impacts of different slaughter methods for insects, and no welfare regulations to guide farmers in determining which slaughter method will be most humane. Barrett explained that boiling/blanching, freezing in liquid nitrogen, and grinding were likely to be the most humane slaughter methods based solely on time-to-death, although in the absence of standard operating procedures, this would vary widely between settings. It was also pretty upsetting to hear that freezing, which has been recommended as a humane slaughter method for insects you might rear at home such as mealworms, is really not that humane at all.
This matters because experience shows how quickly animal welfare can go astray in mass rearing systems. Getting it right now reduces the chances of things going wrong down the line. Also, as the industry becomes more prominent, consumers will want to know that farms are looking after their animals’ welfare. Luke Tilley, the RES’s Director of Communications, said that over the past 10 years, the RES had gone from receiving the odd welfare query to receiving them every week.
Encouragingly, Barrett said that the insect farms she had worked with through her research were very receptive to welfare issues and open to making changes. This bodes well for the future.
And by the way, the issue isn’t topical just because of insects: three weeks ago, it was announced that the UK’s new Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill now considered lobsters, crabs, octopuses and other crustaceans as sentient beings. This means that strict welfare laws will be applied to them, which opens to the door to insects (which are closely related) being categorised in the same way further down the line.
Test Corner: Carrot & cricket muffins
The last muffin recipe I’d tried was with mealworms, so I thought I’d include a recipe with cricket this time. I like making breakfast muffins as a healthy treat for the kids (less sugar and plenty of veg/fruit in them). So carrot and cricket muffins it was – it’s a great combo, especially with the spices.
The muffins are super moist. I think the sugar content is just right but you could decrease it by another 10g or 20g. I personally would have loved raisins and nuts but the kids vetoed them (fine, I’ll have them on the side).
Makes 12 muffins
280g carrots, grated
80g plain flour
120g spelt flour
40g cricket powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground clove
100g soft brown sugar
30g yoghurt (or sour cream)
110g vegetable oil
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
½ tsp salt
I used the all-in-one method to make these: everything goes in the bowl, mix.
Turn the over on at 180C. Grease or line a 12-hole muffin tray. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared cases. Bake 25-30 minutes at 180C. Voilà!