We want to limit the overall animal suffering in the world. Our suggestion is that people replace at least some portion of their protein coming from meat and eggs with protein coming from insects. Conventionally raised big animals are a huge problem and a source of suffering. Insects on the other hand do not suffer at all while being farmed. How is that possible?
Natural feed and plenty of living space
Let’s look at the most popular farmed insect, crickets. They are not picky eaters, their natural diet consists of rotting plant matter, fresh leaves, other bugs, and even meat if the opportunity arises. That’s why feeding crickets the most sustainable feed, human food waste (rice bran, banana peels, etc.), is completely natural to them. They also thrive in dense populations (1). This is in a big contrast to cows that have to be regularly treated with antibiotics to survive those kinds of living conditions.
They don’t feel pain, the way we understand it
In terms of farming, insects have a big advantage compared to larger animals, it’s easy to avoid suffering. At least that’s what scientists studying them are suggesting. Jeffrey Lockwood, an entomologist at the University of Wyoming, says that there is no hard evidence that insects can feel pain (2). Hans Smid of Wageningen University, an expert on parasitic wasps, said in an article for The Washington Post: “I am absolutely convinced that insects do not feel pain. Imagine a praying mantis eating a locust. With its abdomen opened up, the locust will still feed even while being eaten.”
It is important to note that from an evolutionary standpoint the function of pain is to provide a long-term protection for an organism, give it the ability to learn from its mistakes. Robert Elwood, a biological science professor at Queen’s University, said that pain would provide no evolutionary advantages to insects. Their protection comes from their remarkable reproductive efficiency. This corresponds with the fact that most insects don’t have nociceptors, the nerves that larger vertebrates use to transmit pain signals (3).
Insect behaviour also points to the fact that they most likely don’t experience pain in the sense we understand it. A quote from a scientific paper “Do insects feel pain? — A biological view” sums it up: “No example is known to us of an insect showing protective behavior towards injured parts, such as by limping after leg injury or declining to feed or mate because of general abdominal injuries. On the contrary, our experience has been that insects will continue with normal activities even after severe injury or removal of body parts.” (4)
Going to sleep instead of the slaughter house
Even though the case for insects not feeling pain or being able to suffer is pretty strong, farmers still take precautions. They are using special harvesting methods that prevent suffering. For example, crickets naturally go into a hibernation-like state called diapause when the environment turns inhospitable, a very cold morning is often enough to trigger it (5). The farmer just has to reduce the temperature before harvesting and they naturally go into suspended animation. There is no neurological pain for them in this process; they just gradually slow down as they would in nature.
1) R. L. Patton, ‘Growth and Development Parameters for Acheta domesticus”, Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 1978, https://doi.org/10.1093/aesa/71.1.40
2) Max Carpendale, ‘Jeffrey Lockwood on Insect Suffering’, 2013, http://reducing-suffering.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/lockwood-insect-suffering.pdf
3) Adrienne E. Dubin1 and Ardem Patapoutian,’Nociceptors: the sensors of the pain pathway’, J Clin Invest., 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2964977/
4) C. H. Eisemann, ‘Do insects feel pain? — A biological view’, Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 1984, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226162587_Do_insects_feel_pain_-_A_biological_view
5) Steven C. Hand et al., ‘Mechanisms of animal diapause: recent developments from nematodes, crustaceans, insects, and fish’, Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol, 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4935499/