Industrial insect farming is starting to soar in Europe. Touted as a ‘sustainable’ form of agriculture – with insect facilities seeming to have a much smaller environmental footprint than other livestock systems – 71 companies alone are now rearing insects as food for people, with many more using them to produce animal feed, pharmaceuticals, and dietary supplements.
The industry is moving fast. Yet worryingly, the effects of this expanding field have flown mostly under the EU’s radar. Despite the speedy growth of the sector, our research shows there are significant knowledge gaps among key decision-makers about how industrial insect farming could affect animal welfare, the climate and our food systems. This context is critical in shaping the industry as it develops, as well as the various food, farming and animal welfare legislation it interconnects with. Therefore, to foster an understanding of this area among policymakers and industry leaders, we at Eurogroup for Animals have been researching the evolution of insect farming in Europe, to paint an accurate picture of the industry’s current state and how it’s projected to develop. Special thanks to the Effective Altruism Funds programme for their support.
Now a year into this project, see below for a breakdown of some of our key findings and concerns so far.
Insect farming and the welfare of insects
With policymakers behind the curve (the Commission has even admitted to having an “overwhelming lack of knowledge” regarding all aspects of this sector), industry leaders are calling the shots when it comes to insect farming. In turn, their suggestions for the growth of the field are underpinned by industry needs, namely, productivity and cost-efficiency.
As a result, the welfare of insects in these farming systems has been neglected in decisions made about the sector so far, with little acknowledgement of their behavioural needs or even their sentience. To properly inform the debate surrounding insect farming and to allow the EU to make sound policy decisions, the welfare of insects must therefore be thoroughly investigated. Just like any other sentient being, insects deserve to lead happy, fulfilled lives, where all their natural needs are met.
Insect farming and the welfare of other farmed animals
Arguably the main driver for the growth of industrial insect farming is to produce feed for animals in intensive livestock systems. Our research shows that around 900 million more euros have been invested into feed-producing insect facilities over those producing food for people.
This is a big red flag for the future of livestock farming in Europe. Industrial agriculture is a blight to animal welfare, burden to the climate and threat to public health. In order for farm animals across the EU to live healthy, happy lives based around the freedoms described in the ‘Five Domains’ model, Europe needs to move away from intensive livestock farming to agroecological systems built around animal welfare and designed to work with nature. The trajectory of insect farming is therefore a worrying one, as it’s set to support large-scale farming systems that are at the source of suffering for millions of other animals each year.
Insect farming and sustainable food systems
The fact that the majority of insects are being farmed for feed also has implications for the future of our food systems, as the ‘success’ of insect farming appears to rely on an increased demand for (and consumption of) animals.
In order to secure sustainable food systems in the EU, it is imperative that policymakers create healthier food environments that are focused more on plant-based diets, as well as farming far fewer animals (and only in high welfare conditions). More plant-based diets are key to food security, and at Eurogroup for Animals, we’d like to see the consumption and production of animals reduced by 70% by 2030 to help the EU reach its goals for food system transformation.
Ultimately, the expansion of insect farming must not be allowed to threaten the development of Europe’s sustainable food systems, which are connected to animal welfare, food security, public health, the climate, and many more critical areas.