In 2018, insects ranked No. 1 among all pet food ingredients searched for onPetfoodIndustry.com – more than several other ingredients prevalent in thenews, such as potatoes and taurine (related to the canine dilatedcardiomyopathy issue) and CBD. Interest and focus on insect protein for petfood has only accelerated in 2019. Are we soon approaching the point when thisis a viable protein option for pet food producers worldwide?

Insect-based pet food companies, suppliers growing in EU

European Union (EU) regulations have permitted the use of insect protein inpet food for a few years now. Initially, this encouraged the development of adog food here or there using the ingredient – seemingly experiments or earlyadopter market tests by established pet food companies already offeringtraditional products and proteins.

Yet now we see companies in the EU offering insect-protein-based pet foodsexclusively: Yora, based in the UK; Entoma, based in France and Denmark, toname a couple. (Watch for an article on Entoma in the June 2019 issue ofPetfood Industry magazine.)

One reason these pet food companies have been able to specialize in suchproducts is because the insect-protein supply chain has been steadily emergingand growing in Europe, often bolstered by funding of suppliers by third-partyinvestors who apparently know a hot ticket when they see it. Consider:

  • Food and agriculture investment group AgFunder reported that two insect-protein suppliers, Agriprotein (based in the UK and South Africa) and Ÿnsect (based in France) broke the record in 2018 for the largest amount of funding raised by insect farms.
  • The insect industry overall (including for human food) reported investments of US$300 million _ *_ in 2018, according to a press release from Buhler Insect Technology Solutions (BITS) and Alfa Laval.
  • The fact that a large, multinational conglomerate such as Buhler, known for its processing equipment, research and solutions, went full in on bugs to the extent of forming a partnership and building an industrial plant with insect protein supplier Protix in 2017 (BITS) helps prove the viability of this ingredient. Protix itself has received several rounds of funding the past several years.

Will new pet nutrition research help make insects’ case in US?

In the largest pet food market, the U.S., insect protein is not yet allowed inpet foods, at least not complete and balanced diets. Insect-based treats havebeen proliferating, but to date, the regulations and supply chain have notbeen there for full pet diets.

That, too, may soon be changing. I have heard anecdotally that a formaldefinition in the Official Publication of the Association of American FeedControl Officials (AAFCO) – a first and required step to gain regulatoryapproval – is being “fast-tracked,” at least for black soldier fly larvae(BSFL). I’m not sure just how fast that might mean for a typically slow-moving, deliberative body such as AAFCO, yet one development that could helpis recent research showing the benefits that insect protein offers to pets.

For example, feeding trials of dogs and cats fed kibble made with BSFL proteinor oil showed strong acceptance and digestibility of the pet foods compared tocontrols of kibble made with traditional proteins. The research was conductedby Ryan Yamka, Ph.D., of Luna Science and Nutrition in conjunction with EnviroFlight, a growing Ohio, USA-based company specializing in BSFL ingredients.

Similarly, researchers at Iowa State University, led by assistant professorMariana Rossoni Serao, Ph.D., are conducting a multi-phase study on the use ofcricket protein in dog food, in partnership with Jiminy’s, maker of a cricket-based dog treat, and AnimalBiome. (Note: Yamka and Rossoni Serao bothpresented their research at Petfood Forum 2019.)

Is the ‘yuck factor’ a deterrent in pet food?

Proponents of insect protein stress its sustainability, which over time willalso help bring the cost down, along with the growth of the supply chain. Thatleading feature may also attract millennials, the largest pet-owningpopulation now, who in general seem more likely to buy – even pay a premiumfor – more sustainable products.

Aside from the cost, supply chain and, at least in the U.S., regulatorychallenges, the most notable argument often heard about insect protein is the“yuck factor.” Despite many cultures and people around the world consideringinsects a diet staple, that’s not at all the case in the West, a factfrequently cited as being a deterrent against acceptance of insect protein inhuman foods.

But I honestly don’t get that being an issue with pet food. As much as petowners humanize their pets, most probably have seen their precious dog or catreadily chase and possibly devour all sorts of insects. Especially for ownerswho believe their pets should eat “as they would in the wild,” what could bemore apropos than bugs?

*Note : The figure for reported investments in the overall insectprotein industry (human food and pet food) has been corrected from U.S.$300billion to U.S.$300 million. I apologize for the error.

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