Bug, beast, veggie: Does pet food protein source matter?

Talk about insects as a sustainable protein source for humans and pets abounds, yet many questions arise about its suitability for pet foods.

Protein source in pet food matters for a variety of reasons. Often, the source of protein in a food is used as one of the key marketing points. Unique animal protein sources first appeared in veterinary diets designed for pets with allergies. Now they are commonplace, especially in the grain-free category. The more unique, the better. What could be more unique than insect protein? Well, maybe some challenges arise with being too unique.

Proteins must be nutritionally complete when used in pet foods. This means that all of the essential amino acids must be present in the appropriate amounts or supplements will need to be added. Often, diets contain a blend of animal-based proteins and plant or vegetable-based proteins.

Interestingly, more and more conversations regarding insect protein as a sustainable protein source for humans and animals are buzzing around. Regulatory inquiries about the use of insect protein in pet foods may drive these ingredients to gain a definition in the Association of American Feed Control Officials Official Publication, although this is unlikely to be a fast process.

While I would venture a guess that a large portion of the US population is not quite ready to consider the idea of this, I think that those in the business of feeding people, pets or livestock would be wise to seriously consider this innovative protein. As the population grows, concerns about feeding that population are growing as well. Raising livestock requires a large amount of resources. As resource supplies fluctuate, the expense to raise enough animal protein to feed a person or a pet rise exponentially. At some point, there simply will not be enough to go around.

Just as with any new idea, there are many questions that arise. What is the quality of the protein’s amino acid profile? How digestible is insect protein? How palatable are diets that contain insect protein? There are players in the global market with diets designed for pets that contain only insect proteins, but even if regulatory hurdles did not exist, how would the US consumer respond to these diets?

At risk of sounding a little “out there,” I would like to mention the recent movie Tomorrowland. The premise of the movie is that we humans are working at destroying the earth (of course, with a little help from an evil mastermind), and although we know that many of the things we are doing are driving the destruction, we refuse to make necessary changes. Change is tough to swallow—pet food companies deal with this every single day in their customer support, marketing and sales departments.

Forward thinking is what drives innovation, and most companies are searching for the “next big thing.” I am not sure that anyone predicted what grain-free diets would do to the pet food industry; maybe insect protein is the next “grain free.”




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