The edible insect market has been growing and is projected to continue increasing rapidly in the future. There has been significant research pointing to the fact that insects show signs of consciousness, and I think it’s important to seriously compare insect welfare interventions with other ones.
Brian Tomasik's “How Much Direct Suffering Is Caused by Various Animal Foods?” compares the days of suffering per kilogram of different animals. I’d like to add on to this post by a guesstimate model of where insect suffering may lie in this list. I used cricket suffering to create this model and it’s important to note there are differences in the numbers depending on which insects are being farmed—mealworms and black soldier flies likely have a different weight and sentience multiplier.
My reasoning for the numbers I used is given in the sheet: if you hover over the fields, you will see a detailed description.
The model shows the mean value is 1300 days of suffering per kg of insects consumed, which is twice as high as the highest animal in Brian Tomasik’s list (farmed catfish). The median value is considerably lower (35), and the 5th and 95th percentile are approximately 0.32 and 2500.
It's interesting to note that the insect sentience multiplier would have to be 10^-4 for the days of suffering / kg to be around the same as a broiler chicken.
If correct, these estimates suggest that insect welfare deserves a high priority compared to other farmed animal welfare.
Here are possible interventions. In addition to legislation to restrict insect farming (such as bans on using insect feed for livestock), I think there could be a lot of value in using insects other than crickets which have fewer neurons and therefore could have a smaller sentience multiplier (like mealworms). Interventions to ban likely more painful methods of killing insects such as boiling could also be impactful.
I’d very much appreciate discussion and feedback on the model and where you think it could be improved.
I made this model during a one-day hackathon at the Atlas Fellowship.