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How Are Edible Insects Killed? 4 Techniques


how are edible insects killed cover

As the global population continues to grow and concerns about sustainability and food security rise, edible insects have emerged as viable and eco-friendly protein sources. Currently, many insect farms are popping up around the world, in Europe and the US notably.


A common question that arises is how these insects are killed after being harvested. In this article, we will explore the various methods used to euthanize and kill edible insects before processing them.


In short, edible insects are typically killed using methods such as shredding, freezing, boiling, or exposure to carbon dioxide. Let us dive into each of these techniques below.


4 techniques used to kill edible insects

frozen cricket bag

1. Shredding

Shredding is a method used by several companies to directly kill edible insects. While the word “shredding” doesn’t scream “humane”, some experts argue that it enables an instantaneous death of the insect, which prevents them from suffering. After being shredded using industrial machines, the insects can be processed to create various insect-based products, such as protein powders, energy bars, or snacks.


2. Freezing

One of the most commonly used methods for killing edible insects is freezing. By subjecting the insects to sub-zero temperatures, typically below -18°C (0°F), they enter a state of hibernation and ultimately die. Freezing is considered a humane method as it slows down the insects' metabolism, leading to a painless and stress-free death. This method is often used for smaller insects like mealworms and crickets.


3. Boiling

Boiling is another method used to kill edible insects. It involves placing the insects in boiling water for a short period. The high temperature effectively kills the insects, making them safe for consumption. While some may argue that boiling may cause discomfort, studies suggest that insects have a limited capacity to sense pain due to their less complex nervous system.


4. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Exposure

In certain cases, carbon dioxide (CO2) exposure is used as a euthanasia method for edible insects. The insects are placed in an enclosed chamber or container where a controlled concentration of CO2 is introduced. The CO2 displaces oxygen, causing the insects to lose consciousness and eventually die.


It is important to note that responsible insect farms and processors prioritize minimizing suffering and adhering to ethical practices. These practices often include minimizing the handling and stress levels of the insects before euthanizing them. Furthermore, the edible insect industry continually explores and refines methods to ensure the most humane practices possible.



Can insects feel pain?

waxworms in small bowl

The question of whether insects can feel pain is a topic of ongoing scientific debate and research. While insects possess a nervous system, their sensory and pain perception mechanisms differ significantly from those of mammals.


Nociception vs pain

A key aspect of this debate is the notion of “nociception” versus “pain”. Nociception refers to the ability to detect and respond to potentially harmful stimuli. Insects have been shown to exhibit nociceptive responses, such as reflexive withdrawal, when exposed to damaging or noxious stimuli.


However, the interpretation of nociceptive responses as indicative of pain remains a subject of debate. Researchers suggest that nociceptive responses in insects may serve as protective mechanisms without the subjective experience of pain.


Neurological complexity

The neuroanatomy and physiology of insects differ significantly from those of mammals. Indeed, while insects possess nociceptive receptor neurons, they lack the specialized brain structures found in mammals that are associated with pain processing.


This raises questions about whether insects possess the neurological capacity to generate the subjective experience of pain.



Wrap up

Various methods are used to euthanize and kill edible insects, including shredding, freezing, boiling, and carbon dioxide exposure. While these methods are designed to minimize suffering and maintain ethical practices within the industry, research is ongoing as to the level of pain insects experience when killed using these techniques.


As the field progresses, further research and technological advancements will likely lead to even more refined and humane practices.

pile of baked crickets

References

Adamo, S. A. (2016). Do insects feel pain? A question at the intersection of animal behaviour, philosophy and robotics. Animal Behaviour, 118, 75-79.


van Huis et al., 2013. Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.


Erens, Jesse; Es van, Sam; Haverkort, Fay; Kapsomenou, Eleni; Luijben, Andy (2012). "A bug's life: Large-scale insect rearing in relation to animal welfare"(PDF). Wageningen University.


Lundy, M. E., & Parrella, M. P. (2015). Crickets are not a free lunch: Protein capture from scalable organic side-streams via high-density populations of Acheta domesticus. PloS One, 10(4), e0118785.


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