Whether invertebrates possess the capacity to have valenced experiences is still uncertain. On the assumption that invertebrate welfare is a relevant cause area, we explore here different possibilities of assisting invertebrates, both those living in the wild and those under human control. When possible, specific interventions to reduce invertebrate suffering are presented. In other cases, I suggest which questions should be further investigated in order to better understand the problem and to study feasible intervention strategies.
Invertebrates are commonly assumed to be incapable of experiencing positive or negative states. In a series of publications by Rethink Priorities, we have been exploring several relevant questions and surveying the scientific evidence about this matter. In this series:
- We examined the philosophical difficulties inherent in the detection of instances of morally significant pain and pleasure in nonhumans;
- We described our approach to investigating invertebrate sentience, the rationale of this project, and its limitations;
- We explained in detail what we believe to be the most relevant features for assessing invertebrate sentience in the third, fourth, and fifth posts;
- In a sixth post we presented our main findings, summarized in an ‘Invertebrate Sentience Table’;
- A discussion about our main findings by feature and taxa is available in the seventh and eighth posts. We also published our own personal opinions on estimating invertebrate sentience;
- Our ninth post explores what unconscious processes in humans tell us about sentience;
- In the tenth post we applied the standard importance-neglectedness-tractability framework to invertebrate welfare in order to determine whether this is a cause area that is worth prioritizing;
- In the eleventh post, we reflected on possible directions for future fundamental research on invertebrate welfare.
Suppose we are able determine that there is an important probability that invertebrates of certain species are sentient and experience unnecessary suffering. Is there anything we can do to help them? Since it is not even clear whether (some) invertebrates are conscious, what we may or may not do on their behalf is a matter of even greater uncertainty. This topic is addressed here, in the twelfth post of this series.
Our previous posts can be seen as addressing the epistemic objections against the view that invertebrates are conscious (e.g. Bateson, 1991; Eisemann et al., 1984). Yet, beyond this, some practical objections against considering invertebrate welfare a worthwhile cause have also been pressed. In particular, (i) some claim that harming invertebrates such as insects is inevitable, hence, concern about their suffering is impracticable. Others, when thinking in general about animals in nature, (ii) suggest that helping those individuals is unrealistic or that it might have negative unforeseen consequences (Horta, 2015).
Certainly, it is impossible to live without causing some harm. We’ve all accidentally killed a fly or stepped on ants. However, that does not entail we should allow unnecessary and preventable suffering. In addition, it is probable that these animals suffer harms not caused by humans but mostly due to natural events (see Horta, 2010; Ng, 1995). Furthermore, as it will be discussed below, the real force of the second practical objection consists in encouraging us to investigate further about possible ways to help invertebrates in need.
I shall explore here different possibilities to assist invertebrates, clearly distinguishing between helping those living in the wild, on the one hand, and those under human control, on the other. When possible, specific alternatives to reduce invertebrate suffering are presented. In other cases, I suggest some questions that need to be investigated in order to better understand the problem and to study feasible intervention strategies.
Invertebrates living in the wild
Are natural causes of suffering tractable?
Let's first consider the case of invertebrates living in the wild. If they were sentient, their suffering would be predominantly caused by natural events. Some forms of helping animals such as honey bees and bumble bees are known and have been already carried out —although for other purposes, such as an interest in environmental conservation. These interventions include providing adequate food, water, or sheltered place to rest for exhausted bees, as well as other first aid measures (see e.g. here, here, and the story of Frostie, a bee in distress).
These actions show that helping an invertebrate like an insect is not something that cannot be done. But such a small-scale intervention seems insignificant given the scale of the suffering that invertebrates cope with —on the assumption that they are sentient. Furthermore, one may ask what the consequences of promoting such forms of intervention would be at a larger scale. For example, suppose we found a humane way to reduce the population of an invertebrate species that, as a rule, had a terrible quality of life. As their population decreased, that might cause an increase in the population of another species of individuals who competed with them for resources. That may cause the net result of our intervention to be negative.
In general, when we consider hypothetical interventions on a larger scale on behalf of invertebrates that are not under human control, the common denominator is uncertainty: currently, we do not know how to help them. Even in the face of a specific form of intervention, important epistemic difficulties arise. We know that complex interactions take place in ecosystems. Invertebrates play a key role in those processes—e.g. insects, see Schowalter et al., 2018; Scudder, 2017–, and there probably is an unexplored relationship between ecosystem integrity and wild animal welfare. Given the above, direct interventions to promote invertebrate welfare can rather end up increasing total suffering in nature (Delon & Purves, 2018).
Nevertheless, it should be noted that uncertainty is not exclusive to this matter. Conservation interventions already struggle with questions of this sort (see e.g., Keim, 2019). In addition, as Rowe (2019) points out, efforts to reduce global poverty risk spillover effects as well. In general, “any effort to impact the far-future might involve a high degree of cluelessness”, he adds. Thus, uncertainty is not necessarily a decisive argument for dismissing a cause, nor for concluding that it is intractable. At least regarding animal suffering in nature, having insufficient knowledge means that we should learn more so as to maximize our chances of successful intervention.
Hence, we need to investigate and evaluate different possible ways of intervening in nature, taking into account their direct present impact and indirect future effects. In other words, we need to promote scientific research that at least takes into consideration (i) the well-being of individuals, (ii) the relationship between ecosystem integrity and wild animal welfare, (ii) the impact of specific interventions on ecosystem dynamics, and (iv) the long term. Given the magnitude of the problem, research into large-scale rather than small-scale forms of intervention should be prioritized.
Invertebrates that suffer from anthropogenic causes
For the time being, we are in a better position to mitigate the anthropogenic harms that invertebrates face. At least as far as terrestrial invertebrates are concerned, we can hypothesize that one of their main sources of direct anthropogenic harms is agriculture. In crop cultivation invertebrates like insects are probably crushed by tractors and combines, their shelters are destroyed, and they are poisoned with pesticides. However, we know very little about the scale of these problems. As Fischer and Lamey (2018) point out, “a conservative estimate is well over 250 million insects per hectare, and some judge that it’s over a billion per hectare”.
Of all the anthropogenic harms suffered by invertebrates in crops, perhaps the ones we know most about—or at least, the ones that appear as some of the most tractable—are those caused by insect population control methods. In crop cultivation, the massive use of chemical insecticides has been encouraged in order to check the overpopulation of rapidly multiplying insects, considered “pests” (Carere & Mather, 2019).
Insecticides probably cause slow and painful deaths (Oven, 2018). We need to determine whether this suffering is avoidable. Are there any other methods to effectively control insect populations and which avoid the suffering typically caused by insecticides? In general, insect population control methods can be classified into the following major categories: physical control, cultural control, breeding and other genetic methods, biological control, and chemical control (Hill, 1997; Mahr, 2007).
Describing the diversity of existing control mechanisms goes beyond the scope of this article. Thus, in what follows, we focus on some techniques of physical, cultural and chemical control methods which are likely to cause less suffering than the use of common insecticides or other approaches, such as the introduction of predators, parasitic insects, and insect pathogens (forms of biological control). For a further description of the latter and a general overview of different control methods, see Flint & Dreistadt (1998), Hill (1997) and Mahr (2007). For a broader discussion of this problem see also Tomasik (2017a, 2018, 2019).
- Physical control: These are methods that physically keep insects from reaching the crops. Glasshouses—although implemented for climate control—are a good example of these mechanisms. Floating row covers for horticultural crops are also a physical barrier that blocks insects’ access and reduces their reproduction rates.
Traps, for their part, are a common technique that, unfortunately, causes a slow, and possibly painful, death. Moreover, sticky traps produce a significant amount of bycatch, including ladybugs, lacewings and even some vertebrates, like lizards and birds. As previously suggested, the negative impact of these traps on the lives of wild animals can be reduced by attaching a layer of nylon tulle mesh to the trap that limits bycatch (Sétamou et al., 2019). Since sticky traps are widely used in many agricultural settings and deployed in large numbers, applying this mesh could reduce the suffering of a significant number of wild animals (both invertebrates and vertebrates).
Furthermore, in the scenario that larvae do not have the capacity to experience pain and pleasure in a morally significant way, there are specific methods that can trap and kill these juveniles before they reach a stage of development in which they are conscious. Additionally, targeting larvae may check nascent insect populations before they scale, which might mean many fewer deaths than if the population is otherwise not controlled. In this sense, codling moth larvae, for instance, can be trapped under cardboard bands wrapped around apple trees; thereupon, the bands are removed and destroyed.
Other used methods are fruit bags –i.e., putting bags over the fruits. The bags act as a physical barrier that prevents insects from damaging the fruit. Inert kaolin clay, for its part, is another product that forms a physical barrier on the plant. This substance works by creating a barrier film which adheres and irritates insects. It is commonly applied as a spray (e.g., Surround WP crop protectant) against insects such as wasps, grasshoppers, leafrollers, mites, thrips, some moth varieties, psylla, flea beetles and Japanese beetles (Grant, 2018; York, 2016). Thereby, these techniques may have a net positive impact, since they reduce the resources available for some invertebrate populations to thrive.
- Cultural control: These methods involve the modification of standard farming practices to avoid insect proliferation or to make the environment less favorable for them. As such, these techniques do not require the use of specialized crop protection equipment or skills designed to control insect populations. Hence, they typically do not demand extra labor and cost. However, these methods are not always effective for preventing insect overpopulation.
Some common examples of cultural controls are:
- Time of sowing: not planting during the egg-laying period of an insect species can help control insect populations. It is a technique already used for controlling some invertebrate populations, such as seedcorn maggots.
- Time of harvest: the growth of insect and other invertebrate populations can be controlled by prompt harvesting. This method is employed to control weevil and bruchid populations in crop fields of maize and beans.
- Crop rotation: in this practice, different types of crops are grown in the same area in sequenced seasons. It is mostly done because it increases crop yield and soil fertility. However, it can also help to control an invertebrate species population if a crop that is susceptible to a serious pest is followed by another crop that is not in this way susceptible, on a rotating basis. For example, corn rootworm larvae can be starved out by replacing corn for one to two years with a non-host crop, such as soybeans, alfalfa, or oats. Crop rotation works best in larger areas where insects cannot readily move from the old crop location to the new. An important disadvantage of this method is that some crops require special growing conditions and, thus, effective rotation may not be feasible.
- Sanitation: keeping the area clean of plants or materials that may give refuge to high insect populations. Examples include collecting fallen fruits—which often contain pupating insects—and removing weeds that may harbor aphids, mites or whiteflies. Other crop residues—such as corn stubble or squash vines—are commonly used for cereal stalk-borers to pupate. Hence, these residues should similarly be removed and destroyed. Finally, the collection and removal of domestic garbage and sewage are of great importance in the curtailing of common flies and other insect populations.
According to expert opinion (i.e., Lockwood, 2011, cited in Knutsson, 2016), when compared to traditional biological and chemical techniques of controlling insect populations, cultural controls appear to be the most humane methods.
- Chemical methods: Since the mid-1950s, chemical insecticides have been the main weapon against insect pests. These have proven to be effective (high kill, rapid acting, predictable effects) and usually not too expensive. However, as noted above, common insecticides are likely to produce high amounts of direct suffering. If we have to kill insects, we should do it as painlessly as possible. In this regard, Wild Animal Initiative (WAI) is investigating the feasibility of humane insecticides. WAI aims to identify insecticides that kill faster, less painfully, or both, avoiding potentially negative downstream ecological effects (Howe, 2019; Rowe, 2018).
To date, WAI has developed a database of 255 commonly used insecticides. “After an extensive review of the literature on pain and sentience in insects”, they are currently “reviewing the mechanism by which each of these insecticides kill.” Additionally, they are “evaluating the relative painfulness of each, or at a minimum identifying where further research is needed to understand what insecticides might be the least painful” (Wild Animal Initiative, 2019). According to Hollis Howe (2019), leading researcher of the program, “the enormous number of insects together with the likelihood that their welfare is poor means that the potential impact of such interventions [humane insecticides] is high”. WAI is also outreaching experts to assess the viability of the project. If humane insecticides can overcome the problems of conventional insecticides (i.e., insect resistance, contamination risks and potential negative effects on human health, see Hendrichs, 2000; Thullner, 1997), they could be an effective and competitive alternative for controlling insect populations.
If insect eggs and/or larvae do not have the capacity to experience pain and pleasure in a morally significant way, the specific use of ovicides and/or larvicides should be considered preferable to traditional insecticides addressed to adult individuals. Additionally, killing juvenile insects before their population increases implies many fewer deaths than if the population is otherwise not controlled.
Other chemical control methods involve using herbicides to kill unwanted plants—which for many insects are larval or adult hostplants (Carere & Mather, 2019). It may be hypothesized that the use of herbicides has a net positive impact, since these substances eliminate the plant energy that feeds insects and other arthropods, and hence, reduce the resources available for invertebrate populations to thrive. Repellants used on plants may have a similar effect, since insects might alight but will not feed from the plant and end up leaving. However, repelled insects will probably move off to another plant. Therefore, the use of these substances does not appear to be an effective solution.
Lastly, another common method of chemical control consists in using chemicals that inhibit insect feeding, mating, or other essential behaviors. These chemicals can be natural products, synthesized mimics of natural products, or completely synthetic materials. In this regard, two types of substances should be highlighted: antifeedants and pheromones.
Antifeedants are chemicals that block part of the feeding response of phytophagous insects or other arthropods (e.g., caterpillars). A more restrictive definition is provided by Isman (2002, based on Isman et al., 1996), for whom an antifeedant is “a behaviour-modifying substance that deters feeding through a direct action on peripheral sensilla (= taste organs) in insects” (152). These techniques aim to block any aspect of the feeding response: from interfering in how the insect alights on the foliage to altering the olfactory and tasting characteristics of the plant. The main advantage of antifeedants is that they do not seem to harm insects—at least, not directly. However, they are not always effective. First, antifeedants may have a deterrent effect for a specific insect species, while other insects might be completely insensitive to their effects. Second, it has been observed that insects initially deterred by an antifeedant, become increasingly tolerant upon repeated or continuous exposures (Isman, 2002). In general, antifeedants are better recommended as a technique that should be combined with other methods, as part of an integrated pest management system (Isman, 2002; Ley, 1990).
For their part, pheromones (glandular secretions used for communication between individuals within the same species) of different types can act as repellents or as attractants. In the latter case, they are used as part of trapping methods. However, what is of special interest are the effects of sex pheromones. If a given area is flooded with a sex pheromone, males are unable to locate virgin females, and therefore, mating is disrupted. This method (called 'disruption technique' or 'mating disruption') has been used by the Division of Forestry Programs in Wisconsin, US, to slow down the population growth of gypsy moths. As part of the “Slow-The-Spread” program, moth pheromones are sprayed from airplanes in order to treat large areas where moths are spreading (Wisconsin DNR Forestry News, 2017).
A few such products are commercially available for other insects, such as the codling moth, which affects apples. Further developments in mating disruption for other species appear to be a promising area for the effective and humane control of insect populations. However, it should be considered that this practice works best in large commercial fields where it is less likely that mated females will move into the planting from outside of the treated area. Additionally, many of these types of behavioral chemicals break down or wash away quickly. Therefore, they must be designed for slow release over a long period, for use in an enclosed area or for frequent employment.
- Biological methods: In general, biological control refers to different methods of insect and mite population control through other organisms. Typically, they consist in the introduction of ‘biological control agents’ (natural enemies) of the target species, which include predators, parasitic insects, and insect pathogens.
An interesting method of biological control is the sterile insect technique (SIT, also known as ‘autocide’, ‘sterile male technique’ (SMT), or ‘sterile insect release method’ (SIRM)). Through SIT, large number of male insects such as flies (screw-worm flies, fruit flies) and moths (e.g., pink bollworm moths) are sterilized without affecting their sexual behavior. Usually, they are sterilized using ionizing radiations (X-rays, gamma-rays). After the sterilization, male insects are released in crop fields, at a ratio that effectively “inundates” the target species. As sterile males outnumber normal males, most females therefore mate with sterile males and produce no offspring, reducing the future population of the species at issue (Dyck et al., 2015; Hill, 1997).
This method has been used for around 60 years, and has proven successful against fruit flies, screw-worm flies and many other insects (mostly, flies and moths, see Dyck et al., 2015; FAO, 1991; Hendrichs, 2000; Hill, 1997). Since the 1990s, the FAO has openly supported the implementation of SITs, given their effectiveness and the problems associated with the overuse of conventional insecticides (Hendrichs, 2000; Thullner, 1997). Currently, SITs are employed worldwide.
Additionally, SITs have been implemented to control parasites and diseases transmitted to humans by insects (e.g., African trypanosomiasis, also known as ‘sleeping sickness’, transmitted by the tsetse fly; Feldmann & Hendrichs, 2001). Insects like screw-worm flies, or screw-worms for short (Cochliomyia hominivorax), for instance, do not only attack crops but can also parasite humans and other warm-blooded animals. In this case, SITs have been proved to be an effective and humane way of controlling screw-worm fly populations, protecting humans but also domesticated animals and animals living in the wild from screw-worm infestation (see e.g. Rajewski, 2017). Similarly, SITs have been piloted against mosquito vectors of the Zika, yellow fever, chikungunya and dengue viruses (Vreysen et al., 2007).
For a long-lasting effect, SITs require the continuous release of sterile males in overwhelming numbers over several consecutive generations (FAO, 1991). Recently, this technique has been improved with CRISPR gene drives in mosquitoes (genus Anopheles). CRISPR technology is a simple yet powerful tool for editing genomes. It allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene function. By changing the DNA of a few individuals, the modification can be spread throughout an entire population (Vidyasagar, 2018).
In this case, CRISPR is being used to modify the three species of mosquitoes most responsible for malaria transmission—Anopheles gambiae, Anopheles coluzzii, and Anopheles arabiensis. This does not involve their sterilization, but the dramatic reduction of the proportion of female offspring (to no more than 10%). It is expected that this innovation will reduce the overall population of Anopheles, as well as the incidence of malaria–as it is female mosquitoes who transmit the disease (Munhenga, 2018; Vreysen et al., 2007). Unlike traditional SITs, this new approach appears to be more cost-effective since, according to Delphine Thizy–director of Target Malaria, the non-profit research consortium behind an implementation of this in Burkina Faso– “you don’t need to constantly release more mosquitoes” (Newey, 2018).
This initiative is still in its pilot phase. However, it has many potential applications that could target other insects or invertebrates living in the wild.
In general, methods for controlling insect populations have as their main objective to increase agricultural productivity (van Emden & Peakall, 1996). There is little evidence of their effects on the well-being of insects and other arthropods, and much less about their consequences for non-arthropod invertebrates. For instance, it can be hypothesized that although repellants/antifeedants, or physical and cultural control methods do not directly cause painful deaths, indirectly, they can cause equal or even more painful ways to die. Since these methods remove food and shelter that invertebrates rely upon, it is probable that their populations are checked not only because the animals fail to reproduce but also because they die of starvation, exposure, or predation. For the time being, we do not know if these deaths are better than deaths by exposure to organophosphate or pyrethroid insecticides, for example (Hollis Howe, personal communication, 7 November 2019). Hence, further research is needed to discern which techniques, or which combination of them, may produce the least possible suffering, considering as well their impact on animal population dynamics.
With these precautions in mind, the following table (fig. 1) summarizes the methods reviewed above that are likely to cause less suffering than insecticides and other traditional approaches:
Fig. 1. Insect and other invertebrate population control methods: some techniques that are likely to cause less suffering than traditional insecticides and other similar approaches.
Invertebrates under human control
In this section I discuss the main activities in which humans use, and sometimes kill, invertebrates. A brief description of each of these uses is given. When possible, alternatives to reduce invertebrate suffering are presented. In other cases, I suggest questions that need to be investigated in order to better understand the problem and design possible intervention strategies.
Invertebrates are used in field research on biodiversity and conservation and as laboratory models for the biological systems of other animals, including humans (Carere et al., 2011; Carere & Mather, 2019). In laboratories, some of the most common invertebrates are fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), the nematode C. elegans, honey bees (Apis), and to a lesser extent, the coelenterate Nematostella and jumping spiders (family Salticidae). Other invertebrate animals used in neurobiology are Loligo squids, Limulus horseshoe crabs and sea hares (Aplysia). Invertebrate use in research will probably continue, and even increase, in the future (Carere & Mather, 2019; Pollo & Vitale, 2019).
In most countries, invertebrates are not generally covered by animal welfare laws. In the United States, for example, there are no official requirements for using insects in research or, apparently, for using any other invertebrate (see the website of the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (2019) of the US Government). Hence, no record is usually kept of how many invertebrates are used in experimentation. However, researchers do have to keep some track of the animals used, exclusively for scientific reasons –as part of the methods followed in a study. Still, the numbers of animals used in scientific reports or papers are far less than the total number of animals involved in a study for a variety of reasons. For example, they do not include animals that researchers used for training purposes or animals that researchers used for the study but were "discarded." Moreover, the number of "discarded" animals can vary wildly between studies, species, and depending on the carefulness of the experimenter. Additionally, this approach does not include the animals used or killed for studies that never got published for whatever reason. Thus, the number of invertebrates used in research is probably higher than the number of animals reported in scientific papers. In this regard, another starting point for estimating the number of invertebrates used in research would be to identify the major suppliers and ask them how many insects and other invertebrates they sell to laboratories, universities and other relevant institutions (Michelle Graham, personal communication, 11 November 2019).
On the other hand, some countries or regions have approved legislation or protocols on husbandry, handling, and euthanasia for some invertebrates used in research (e.g., United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, the European Union). In these cases, obtaining estimates of the invertebrates that are protected by existing legislation is not difficult. Thus, for example, I had previously estimated that scientific and educational experiments with cephalopods in Spain ranged from 0 to a maximum of 15,848 annually, for the period 2009-2017 (see here –note that the spreadsheet is in Spanish). However, these figures are probably not representative of the number of other smaller invertebrates used for research.
These mandatory or recommended procedures for the treatment of invertebrates used for research could be promoted in other regions. Similarly, the principles of Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement (the "Three Rs") for the use of animals in scientific research could be applied to invertebrates as well. In this sense, specific strategies to achieve the Three R's when planning projects that involve the use of invertebrates—e.g., octopuses—should be developed (Harvey-Clark, 2011).
2. Food production
2.1. Crop cultivation for human and animal consumption: No data was found on the magnitude of the following uses of invertebrate animals:
2.1.1. Invertebrates reared to be used as biological control agents: As explained above, these are predators or parasitic insects used to check invertebrate populations. Predators may be insects or other insectivorous animals, each of which consume many insect prey during their lifetime (Mahr, 2007). A great variety of predator insects are reared to control insect populations in crop fields, greenhouses and private households (Boppré & Vane-Wright, 2019; Morales-Ramos et al., 2014).
Parasites of insects, for their part, are other insects—like parasitoid wasps (genus Encarsia)—which lay their eggs in or on the host insect. When the parasite egg hatches, the young parasite larva feeds on the host (the target insect) and kills them. Usually one host is sufficient to feed the immature parasite until they become an adult (Mahr, 2007; Morales-Ramos et al., 2014; Sithanantham et al., 2013). Parasite insects like phytophagous wasps (genus Tetramesa), moths (genus Cactoblastis) and phytophagous flies (genus Urophora) are also used to combat exotic weeds. This is often unsuccessful and poses an environmental risk since it can affect non-target organisms (Boppré & Vane-Wright, 2019; Capinera, 2008; Moran et al., 2014; Pearson & Callaway, 2003).
2.1.2. Invertebrates reared for use in sterile insect technique (SIT): As already explained, male insects such as flies (screw-worm flies, fruit flies) and moths (e.g. pink bollworm moths) are reared, sterilized using ionizing radiations (X-rays, gamma-rays) and released in crop fields to reduce the future populations of those species (Dyck et al., 2015; Hill, 1997).
2.1.2. Invertebrates used for pollination: Honey bees and other pollinator insects are reared by crop industries. Solitary bees and bumble bees are then released to support pollination efforts. It is expected that the so-called “pollinator crisis” will result in the breeding and release of even a higher number of bees (Boppré & Vane-Wright, 2019).
2.2. Invertebrates in aquaculture and fishing: Invertebrates such as shrimps, clams, squids, locusts, crabs, marine snails, octopuses and crayfish serve as a major source of human food worldwide. Fishcount (2019a) estimates that 30-56 billion crayfish, crabs and lobsters, and 190-470 billion shrimps and prawns were killed in aquaculture production in 2015. These numbers do not include animals who died pre-slaughter, meaning the actual number of killed crustaceans is higher. However, detailed and accurate data about how many aquatic invertebrates are wild-caught (by species and country) is an important issue that should be further investigated.
Moreover, there is a strong market demand for octopuses, and important investments for developing intensive octopus farms, in Mediterranean, South American and Asian countries—especially in Spain, Chile and China (see Iglesias et al., 2004; Jacquet et al., 2019; Piper, 2019). How likely is it that the industry will succeed in its efforts to raise octopuses in industrial facilities? What does the future for this industry look like? What is the industry's niche market? What will the impact of this industry on other marine animals used to feed octopuses be? What are the prospects of this practice spreading to other cephalopods? Given the relatively strong evidence that cephalopods (i.e., octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid) are conscious (see Invertebrate Sentience: Summary of findings, Part 2), the use of these animals for industrial food production will constitute a very important animal welfare problem.
In 2017, Carder published a preliminary study into lobster welfare in the United Kingdom. She found that lobsters were frequently overcrowded, denied shelter, and subjected to unsuitably bright light. Carder (2017) also recommend research on the welfare of lobsters and other decapod crustaceans, when housed in tanks, during capture, handling and transport. “Such information can be used to inform legislative change” (Carder, 2017: 067).
At present, the most common methods of slaughtering crustaceans and cephalopods include splitting, spiking, chilling, boiling, gassing, “drowning,” and using chemicals or electricity. These methods are applied without prior stunning and do not cause immediate death. Hence, they are likely to produce pain and distress (EFSA, 2005; Fishcount, 2019b; Yue, 2008). In some countries, for example New Zealand, the humane killing of octopuses and some species of crustaceans is mandatory under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (reinforced last year through the Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations 2018). New technologies, such as immersion in clove oil bath and electrical methods, may improve the welfare of these animals during slaughter.
Clove oil is becoming a popular anesthetic for procedures such as handling and transporting some aquatic animals, and has been successfully tested on various species of fishes (Taylor & Roberts, 1998) and octopuses (Seol et al., 2007). Regarding crabs, clove oil has been shown to immobilize them without apparent signs of distress (Morgan et al., 2001 in Yue, 2008). Thus, the use of this substance could be more widely promoted for octopuses and may be used effectively to kill crustaceans like crabs (EFSA, 2005; Gardner, 1997). However, additional research is needed to better assess clove oil effectiveness in crustaceans in general (Yue, 2008). Additionally, others claim that it is not yet clear whether clove oil and other anaesthetic agents (i.e., AQUI-S) are safe for human consumption (RSPCA, 2018).
Regarding electrical methods, the Crustastun electrical stunning and killing system (see Mitchell & Cooper, 2019) is known to be effective and more humane than traditional method (Yue, 2008). This device destroys the animal’s nervous system within half a second, thus not allowing their pain receptors to work. Death ensues in all crabs, langoustines and lobsters within 5-10 seconds. Since New Zealand, Switzerland and the city of Reggio Emilia (in northern Italy) banned boiling crustaceans alive (Street, 2018), the use of Crustastun is expanding. It is reported that Waitrose, Tesco and major supermarkets in the United Kingdom claim that this method is used in all shellfish products supplied to them (Fishcount, 2019a; Griffiths & White, 2012). Tesco's own brand of crab and lobster assures that they stun the animals prior to slaughter. Waitrose, for its part, stuns their brown crabs (Cancer pagurus) and lobsters as well. Some restaurants in the UK such as Locanda Locatelli and Quo Vadis have committed to using the Crustastun (Crustacean Compassion, 2019).
Furthermore, scientists in Norway have adapted the commercial dry stunner for fishes (Stansas, by the equipment manufacturer Seaside) for the humane killing of crabs in bulk (Roth & Grimsbo, 2013). This new technology is in line with new Norwegian animal welfare regulation and allows for easier handling of the animals during processing (Berg-Jacobsen, 2014).
These methods and others were discussed by the Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA, 2018). The organization concludes that “further research is required before definitive conclusions can be drawn about the humaneness of stunning and killing methods for crustaceans” (RSPCA, 2018). For its part, the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA) is funding scientific research to improve the welfare of farmed finfishes, decapod crustaceans and/or coleoid cephalopods during slaughter. The HSA is trying to better understand and improve the welfare of these farmed animals whilst undergoing slaughter for food production (HSA, 2018).
In parallel, the start-up New Wave Foods is producing plant-based shrimps from seaweed, soy protein, and natural flavors. The company, founded in 2015, offers "a rapidly-scalable alternative that uses ingredients and technology consumers recognize," according to Dominique Barnes (2018 in Watson, 2018), one of its co-founders. From a business perspective, New Wave has considerable chances of success. First, in tonnes, shrimp is one of the most consumed 'seafood' in the world. Second, New Wave is one of the few companies trying to commercialize crustacean substitutes, facing almost no competitors. Recently, Tyson Foods–one of the major meat processing companies worldwide–invested in the start-up. Tyson will leverage its scale and network to help accelerate New Wave's growth. Furthermore, after shrimp, New Wave is planning to develop plant-based crab and lobster (Lucas, 2019).
2.3. Land invertebrates for human consumption:
2.3.1 Insect farming: Insects of certain species have been eaten by humans since prehistoric times (van Huis et al., 2013; van Huis, 2017). Their use as food continues to be widespread in tropical and subtropical countries, like Thailand (Van Huis et al., 2013; FAO, 2013; Shockley & Dossey, 2014 in Morales-Ramos et al., 2014). After a UN Food and Agriculture Organization in-depth report about edible insects (van Huis et al., 2013), there has been increasing interest in entomophagy (insect consumption) in the United States and Europe (regarding the European Union, see Regulation No 2015/2283). Mainly, it is argued that the edible insect industry might provide an environmentally sound alternative to traditional animal protein (Gerhardt et al., 2019; van Huis et al., 2013). However, the industry faces negative consumer perception of insects as a food source in most Western countries (Gerhardt et al., 2019).
Nowadays, insect-based products for human consumption range from protein bars, insect powder, snacks, crispbread pasta, insect infused beer, bitters, smoothies and burgers (Bug Burger, 2019). There are no estimates of how many insects are farmed annually for human consumption. Although which species are consumed varies by region, it seems to be that beetles are one of the most eaten insects (van Huis et al., 2013). In European countries, crickets of different species and mealworms (the larval form of the mealworm beetle, Tenebrio molitor) are commercialized as well (European Commission, 2019).
Currently, a team of scientists at Tufts University in the United States is developing lab-grown insect meat, or as they call it, “entomoculture". According to Rubio et al. (2019), less demanding environments are needed to grow insects compared to mammals and birds. Additionally, insects require less energy and are better suited for lab spaces, such as vertical systems. At present, research is ongoing to master two key processes: controlling the development of insect cells into muscle and fat, and combining these in 3D cultures with a meat-like texture. In the future, insect meat could even be modified to taste like lobster, crab or shrimp due to the evolutionary proximity of insects and crustaceans.
2.3.2. Snail meat and snail caviar: Land snails are consumed by humans in many cultures. They commonly are cooked alive, which is probably extremely painful, assuming they are conscious individuals (Tomasik, 2017b). Additionally, during the past years, there has been a growing interest in snail caviar as a luxury food item across Europe (Generalitat de Catalunya, 2010; Randle et al., 2017).
In 2017, global snail production amounted to 18,331 tonnes (FAO, 2019). However, for 2016, the FAO (2019b) estimated a total production of 17,970 tonnes of snails, while a sector source claims that the global snail market amounted to 43,000 tonnes (Indexbox, 2018 in Food Dive, 2018). In an upcoming report by Rethink Priorities, we discuss these figures and other issues involved in the use of snails as food.
2.3.3. Carmine (or cochineal): This pigment is produced from some scale insects (small insects of the order Hemiptera, suborder Sternorrhyncha) such as the cochineal scale (Dactylopius coccus) and certain Porphyrophora species (Armenian cochineal and Polish cochineal). Usually labeled as ‘E-120’, carmine is used in cosmetics, personal care products, as a food coloring—e.g. in juices, yogurts and candies–, and in some medications (Greenhawt et al., 2009). It is estimated that the typical per-capita number of cochineal bugs killed by consumers in rich countries is around 120 per year (Tomasik, 2017c).
There are plant-based alternatives to carmine, such as lycopene (a tomato-based extract) betanin (obtained from beetroots) and extract from berries. After customer pressure, Starbucks moved away from carmine in 2012 (Soteriou & Smale, 2018). The above suggests that similar petitions in this regard could be effective.
2.3.3. Honey, royal jelly and beeswax: According to the FAO (2019b), in 2017 there were 90,999,730 beehives worldwide. During the same year, 42,307 tonnes of beeswax and 1,860,712 tonnes of honey were produced (FAO, 2019). Hwang (2017) estimated that around 888,568,235,294 honey bees were used for honey production globally in 2014 (1,510,566 tonnes). In an upcoming report by Rethink Priorities, we estimate that at any given time in 2017 there were between 1.4 and 4.8 trillion adult managed honey bees.
2.4. Invertebrates as food for other animals: No data was found on the magnitude of the following uses of invertebrate animals:
2.4.1. Invertebrates as aquaculture feed: Some invertebrates—i.e. krill and insects—are used as aquaculture feed. Most of the krill caught in commercial fisheries is used for aquaculture feed. Only a small percentage is prepared for human consumption (FAO, 1997). Some of the most used species are the Antarctic krill Euphausia superba and the North Pacific krill Euphausia pacifica (Atkinson et al., 2009; FAO, 1997). Several species, especially E. superba, are likely to be increasingly used given the expected growth of aquaculture in the future (Naylor et al., 2009).
Insects, for their part, are used to cover in part the nutritional needs of fishes and crustaceans reared in aquaculture (Riddick, 2014 in Morales-Ramos et al., 2014). Insect farming for aquafeed is still at an early stage of development (Fletcher & Howell, 2019; Tran et al., 2015). Since July 2017, European Union legislation allows animals in aquaculture to be fed with processed animal protein (PAP) from insects (Regulation No 2017/893).
2.4.2. Insects as food for land animals in farms: Saprophagous flies are reared on animal dung and/or organic waste in increasing amounts to recycle it and obtain, at the same time, a substitute for fish to feed chickens (Boppré & Vane-Wright, 2019; Hussein et al., 2017; Khusro et al., 2012). In Europe, the European Commission is currently exploring the possibility to authorize the use of PAP from insects to feed chickens and pigs (IPIFF, 2019). How developed and widespread are industrial-scale processes for the production of insect-based diets for other farmed animals is an issue that merits further research.
2.4.3. Insects as pet food: A limited, but growing, number of pet food products based on insects is available in the market, including cat food, dog food, and pet treats (see Coates, 2019; Smithers, 2019). Pet food companies in the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany already include insects in their feed formula, notably as a means to diversify their products. At least in Europe, this trend is expected to continue to grow in the next few years (IPIFF, 2018; Smithers, 2019).
2.4.4. Invertebrates used as food for other purposes: Invertebrates –mostly insects such as crickets, locusts, and mealworms– are commercially reared on a large scale in order to feed small animals in zoos, aquariums and laboratories (Boppré & Vane-Wright, 2019).
3. Entertainment and hobbies
3.1. Displays in aquaria or insectariums: Live exhibits in zoos and museums, usually with educational purposes (Boppré and Vane-Wright, 2012; Boppré & Vane-Wright, 2019). No information was found on the magnitude of this problem.
3.2. Collection: Amateur entomologists have long reared insects in captivity for collections. Insect aficionados also keep various insects as pets—an increasing trend due to wider availability of interesting exotic species. Usually, this practice involves a reduced number of individuals (Boppré & Vane-Wright, 2019).
3.3. Invertebrates used as fishing bait: A variety of invertebrates, such as worms (Lumbricus terrestris), krill, different insects and leeches are used to attract and catch fishes (FAO, 1997; Miesen & Hauge, 2004). It should be noted that artificial baits are also used for sport fishing (see e.g. Simonds, 2016; WikiHow, 2019).
3.4. Fun and decoration: For ceremonial release at weddings, funerals, birthday parties (Boppré & Vane-Wright, 2019; Pyle et al., 2010). Butterflies, in particular, are reared so that they or their dead bodies are preserved for decorative or artistic purposes (Kellert, 1993).
3.5. Other hobbies: Cricket fighting in China (Judge & Bonanno, 2008).
4. Clothing and accessories
Invertebrates are also used to produce silk (silkworms), pearls, and shells (mollusks). The best-known silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity (sericulture). Around 168,333 tonnes of raw silk were produced in 2014 (FAO, 2019). There are no official estimates of how many worms were used to produce that amount silk. Barwick (2015), using figures provided by the International Sericulture Commission, estimates that between 703 billion (703,014,400,000) and over 2 trillion (2,391,686,944,000) worms were killed for silk production in 2013.
Pearls, for their part, are produced within the soft tissue (the mantle) of a living shelled mollusk. They are formed naturally when a parasitic larva or a foreign particle (e.g., a small piece of rock or a grain of sand) penetrates and irritates the oyster, mussel, or clam. As a defense mechanism, the mollusk secretes a fluid to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating, called 'nacre', is deposited around the particle to form a pearl (Ellis & Haws, 1999). Cultivated pearls undergo the same process. But in this case, the irritant is a surgically implanted bead or piece of shell called 'mother of pearl,' producing a regular round pearl. Additionally, for producing artificial pearls, mussels, and other mollusks must also be harvested from the wild (Ellis & Haws, 1999; Gervins & Sims, 1992; Pollo & Vitale, 2019).
Natural pearls are extremely rare. Thus, most of the commercialized pearls are cultivated. According to Gervins and Sims, (1992), the major producers of cultured pearls have traditionally been Japan and Australia. However, other sources state that currently, China is the primary producer of artificial pearls. It is estimated that China accounts for about 95% of world pearl production, with approximately 1,600 tons of pearls put on the market every year Pollo & Vitale, 2019; Sustainable Pearls, 2012).
5. Cosmetics, medicinal therapy, and others
5.1. Snail slime: Snail slime is used in skincare products. It is commercially obtained from the common garden snail species Helix aspersa (Tsoutsos et al., 2009). This issue is addressed in an upcoming report by Rethink Priorities.
5.2. Blowflies for cleaning wounds: Maggots of blowflies (family Calliphoridae) are used for cleaning necrotic flesh from open wounds, releasing antibiotics and promoting healing. These animals have been employed for this purpose since the Middle Ages and now they are being used on an industrial scale (Boppré & Vane-Wright, 2019).
5.3. Mother-of-pearl cream: Mother-of-pearl (also known as nacre) is a material produced by some mollusks as an inner shell layer. Given its regenerative properties it is used for making skin care creams.
5.4. Shellac: Shellac is an oleoresin secreted by the female lac bug (Kerria lacca) on trees (Raman, 2014). Once it is processed, it is used as a brush-on colorant, food and pharmaceutical glaze, wood finish and for long-lasting manicures (shellac nails). Between 50,000 and 300,000 lac bugs are required to produce 1 kg of shellac (Tomasik, 2017c).
6. Conservation purposes
Invertebrates of several endangered species are raised in order to be released in the wild in reintroduction and restocking programs. One example is the North American monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) in the United States (Monarch Joint Venture, n.d.). However, even for conservation purposes, research suggests that these captive-raised butterflies may have lost the ability to migrate, and they may even disrupt wild migrations (Tenger-Trolander et al., 2019). More recently, some economically relevant species such as lobsters are reared for restocking purposes to replenish overfished areas (Agnalt, 2008; Horvath et al., 2013).
For thousands of years insects have been employed in human conflicts, with the aim of inflicting pain, destroying food, and transmitting pathogens. Historically, for example, stinging insects (e.g. wasps) were fired into enemy strongholds. Nowadays, insects could be back into the realm of warfare, especially in nonindustrialized regions. The National Research Council (2003) reports the possibility of using insects as bioterrorist weapons by releasing carrying-diseases insects or insects that could damage agriculture (Lockwood, 2011). In the United States, government research into biological weapons was banned in 1969, but research into protecting U.S. military personnel from such agents may have continued, according to a recent amendment. Given these suspicions, the US House of Representatives required the US Defence Department’s inspector general to investigate whether biological warfare tests involving ticks and other insects took place over a 25-year period (Donnelly, 2019).
To summarize, the following table (fig. 2) lists the different ways invertebrates are used, as presented above:
Fig. 2. Different ways in which invertebrates are used.
Except for the figures already mentioned above, the numbers of animals involved in these practices is generally not known. Typically, when statistics on the volume of production are available, the figures measure weight, not number of animals. If (some) invertebrates are sentient, it is important to estimate how many animals are involved in these industries in order to more precisely determine the magnitude of the problem.
Furthermore, despite the widespread use of invertebrates, very limited information about their welfare was found. Some researchers claim that these animals are often maintained with minimal care and oversight, in contrast to the concern shown to vertebrates (Carere et al., 2011; Horvath et al., 2013). Further research about invertebrate treatment in the most relevant areas where they are used is highly needed. In a previous post, we suggested some specific aspects of captivity conditions that should be addressed in future investigations.
Advocating on behalf of invertebrates under human control—at least on behalf of those for whom there is sufficient evidence that they are sentient—seems to be a highly important cause, given its presumable scale, neglectedness and tractability:
- Scale: As mentioned above, typically, statistical records of the number of invertebrates used in different industries do not exist. As such, the overall number of invertebrates that are employed for human purposes is not known. However, given their size and the figures given by some industries in weight, we can hypothesize, in a preliminary fashion, that their number is extraordinarily high. Likely, this figure is still small compared to invertebrates living in nature. However, this number is also likely to exceed the total sum of vertebrates used and killed by humans for different purposes.
- Neglectedness: With a few exceptions, invertebrate welfare is generally neglected both within and without the effective altruism community. For a discussion of this lack of concern toward invertebrate welfare, see one of our previous posts.
- Tractability: Despite the above, we have some history of measures taken for the benefit of some invertebrates under human control. Broadly, invertebrate welfare was an obscure topic until in 2010 the European Union decided to update their animal welfare legislation. This legislative update generated an important scientific and political debate about whether crustaceans and cephalopods are able to feel pain or not. In particular, the Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare of the European Union concluded that there is sufficient evidence to recognize that cephalopods can experience pain (EFSA, 2005). As a result of this conclusion, the European Union opted to give cephalopods used for scientific research the same legal protection that was previously afforded only to vertebrates (Directive 2010/63/EU). Through this legislation, Europe set up an agency to look at issues such as methods of capture, training of workers in cephalopod welfare and anesthetics, far beyond the narrow protection provided by general guidelines of other countries (e.g., Canada) (Ponte et al., 2019).
Besides the European Union and, to a lesser extent, Canada, other countries such as the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand and some states in Australia protect some invertebrates (mostly, crustaceans) used for scientific research and/for human consumption. For example and as mentioned earlier, New Zealand, Switzerland and the city of Reggio Emilia (Italy) have banned boiling crustaceans alive (Street, 2018). In the United Kingdom, Crustacean Compassion is actively campaigning for a similar ban as well as for further protections under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (see the campaign). The RSPCA—the largest animal welfare charity in the UK—will join in these efforts (Kennedy, 2019), as it has previously done in Australia. Also in the UK, the Labour Party (2019) recently launched its 'Animal Welfare Manifesto', where it calls on the Government to expand the definition of “animal” to cover cephalopod and decapod crustaceans. Such a measure, according to the party, “would end the practice of lobsters being boiled alive” (the Labour Party, 2019). Similarly, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation–a British independent organization with Conservative MP Patrons–has proposed to legislate to recognise animal sentience, including cephalopods and decapods (Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, 2019).
Also in Europe, in 2017, Italy’s highest court ruled that live lobsters and crabs must not be kept on ice in restaurant kitchens because it causes them unjustifiable suffering (Nadotti, 2017; see the ruling here). In the United States, the Whole Foods supermarket chain took a similar measure: the company discontinued the sale of live shellfish from its upmarket stores. The supermarket's decision was the result of an inquiry which concluded that it was unable to ensure the health and well-being of lobsters and soft-shelled crabs in the store tanks before being bought by customers. The Safeway supermarket chain also stopped selling live lobsters because of declining demand (Buncombe, 2006).
Further research could potentially uncover tractable, cost-effective ways to improve farmed invertebrate welfare. For instance, research on existing invertebrate welfare legislation and other institutional decisions (like Starbucks' decision about carmine) can help to identify positive measures on behalf of some invertebrates that could be implemented in other regions.
Still, biochemistry and technology applied to the development of plant-based shrimp, crab, and lobster may play a major role in disrupting the use of these animals as food. In general, the plant-based sector is in the spotlight, with booming sales, and is expected to continue to grow. The plant-based market may reach a "tipping point" if it succeeds in innovation in product quality and taste (Taylor, 2019).
Besides the obvious fact that a successful campaign could spare an important number of sentient invertebrates from extreme forms of suffering, I believe we have other strategic reasons, in certain contexts, to consider advocating in behalf of farmed invertebrates (mostly cephalopods and crustaceans) in the near future. Or, at least, there are reasons to think that promoting welfare measures for some invertebrates under human control is more likely to succeed than those for invertebrates living in nature. We should consider that:
The wild animal welfare community, like other social groups and movements, needs victories that inspire: No matter how small, a movement needs to encourage its own supporters to believe in the possibility of change. Certainly, our short-term goals should be chosen considering both the amount of suffering involved and the opportunities for change. Nevertheless, in the early stages of the movement, the latter may be given more weight in order to choose campaigns that allow for early victories.
We need to build a movement of trained professionals: Invertebrates and, in general, animals living in the wild, need an expert community of active researchers and advocates to help find solutions and promote concern for these animals. Targeted campaigns can help to develop this know-how and expertise. Additionally, these initiatives can engage more people around the wild animal welfare movement, especially advocates with diverse professional backgrounds whose talent may flourish in areas other than research. Broadly, this may have an impact on strengthening the wild animal welfare community.
In the future, we may need to raise awareness: If some invertebrates are conscious, we may need to promote concern for their welfare. Campaigns on behalf of octopuses or lobsters, for example, may invite citizens/consumers to think of these animals as sentient beings, and individuals whose interests are a legitimate object of moral concern. Or, at least, if cruel public practices are banned—such as keeping lobsters and crabs alive on ice in restaurants, or maintaining these animals with their claws bound in overcrowded tanks in supermarkets–this may help to begin denormalizing speciesist attitudes towards these animals. In general, weakening speciesist attitudes can pave the way for the development and implementation of more effective measures that can benefit invertebrates and other wild animals in the more distant future.
Presumably, understanding how existing measures to protect cephalopods or crustaceans have been achieved will help determine under what conditions, if any, this may be promoted in other regions, and how likely it is that such conditions will obtain.
Here, in the thirteenth post of our series on invertebrate welfare, we explored the possibilities of helping invertebrates living in the wild and under human control. When available, specific alternatives to reduce invertebrate suffering have been presented. In other cases, I have suggested issues that need to be further investigated in order to better understand the problem and to study feasible intervention strategies in the future.
One final note. Even if we learned that some invertebrates are conscious and even if we had the technical means to aid them, we would still have to ascertain the likelihood that specific interventions will be socially supported and adopted. This topic will be addressed in an upcoming post.
This essay is a project of Rethink Priorities.
It was written by Daniela R. Waldhorn. Thanks to Eze Paez, Hollis Howe, Jason Schukraft, Kim Cuddington, Marcus A. Davis, Matias Vazquez, Michelle Graham, Peter Hurford, and Saulius Šimčikas for their contribution.
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A recent paper by Groff and Ng (2019) finds that at least one theoretical argument for claiming that suffering predominates in nature was mistaken and that the situation is, at present, theoretically ambiguous. In particular, the mathematical model proposed by the authors suggests that rates of reproductive failure among wild animals can either improve or worsen average welfare, depending on the species. While more empirical research is needed, this might indicate a neutral-to-positive existence for some animals in nature, including invertebrates. Even if we conclude that invertebrate lives are already mostly positive, that does not entail that invertebrate welfare should not concern us. Instead, it means that it is a less important cause than if suffering was predominant. In that scenario, there may still be adverse events that cause severe but unnecessary suffering, and hence, we should work to prevent them or reduce their negative impact. Note, however, that the reasons given in this respect by mathematical models are, at best, weak. Conclusive reasons to endorse or reject the claim that suffering predominates in nature can only be provided by empirical research, as the authors themselves recognize. ↩︎
The so-called “insect Armageddon” has recently given visibility to various proposals by environmental groups to protect pollinator insects such as bees (see e.g. Warwick, 2018). However, these measures do not necessarily further insect well-being, but rather seek to promote the growth or halt the decline of these insect populations (see e.g. Boppré & Vane-Wright, 2019). ↩︎
Some may argue that we should not interfere in nature, and hence, that we should not intervene to control insect populations. Others may have good reasons for limiting insect population. To delve into this philosophical discussion, however, exceeds the purposes of this article. The reasoning here presented is based on the premise that insect populations must now be controlled for food production and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. With this objective in mind, I try to identify existing approaches or methods that may be developed in the short term and that (if insects are conscious) minimize the suffering caused to them. ↩︎
In particular, insect resistance to insecticides is becoming greater, becoming a major problem. Additionally, there is increased public awareness of insecticides’ polluting effects and concerns about their impact on human health (Hendrichs, 2000; Thullner, 1997). ↩︎
Screw-worm flies feed on plants, but lay eggs in animal wounds, especially mammals and, sometimes, birds. The flies can detect a wound from a long distance, and they release pheromones that attract even more flies. Hundreds or thousands of eggs can hatch into larvae that burrow into the wound, eating the living tissue of the infested animal. This infestation (screwworm myiasis) can be fatal if not treated (The Center for Food Security and Public Health, 2016). ↩︎
The combination of different cost-effective methods to control pest populations usually receives the name of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) or Integrated Pest Control (IPC). According to FAO (2019a), IPM is “the careful consideration of all available pest control techniques and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimize risks to human health and the environment. IPM emphasizes the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms.” It is characterized as a flexible approach to managing pests, below economically damaging levels. ↩︎
In this talk from EA Global 2018: London, Nicole Rawling (the Good Food Institute), Nick Rousseau (the Woven Network), and Kyle Fish (Tufts University) offer their varying perspectives about the role, if any, that insects should play in the future of agriculture. ↩︎
Parameters: Livestock Primary; World + (Total); Production quantity; Snails, not sea; 2016. ↩︎
Parameters: Live Animals, World + (Total), Beehives, Stocks, 2017. ↩︎
I assume that invertebrate welfare is a concern of the wild animal welfare movement. Or, when thinking of farmed invertebrates, it may lead to strategic convergences with the farmed animals movement. Broadly, I do not envision ‘invertebrate welfare' as a movement in itself. ↩︎