Will No-Meat Pet Food Fly?

Nov. 5, 2020

Fly larvae as a source of protein for pets.

I no longer own a pet and don’t usually cover product formulation, so I was late catching the news that pet food is apparently going to be made from flies.

Nestlé is coming out with Purina Beyond Nature’s Protein, a line that features protein from various non-meat sources. In one case, that includes “black soldier fly larva.” It isn’t the first company to use that stuff, according to CNN: Yora Pet Foods, based in the United Kingdom, proclaims that it sells “insect-based dog food” right on its webpage ID.

Well. As I said, I don’t own a pet, but I do know that there are a couple of contradictory impulses here, both rooted in the same thing: Anthropomorphism.

Conventional wisdom in pet food is that you sell the stuff by appealing to owners’ taste buds. It’s why most of the pet food packaging and advertising you see features luscious chunks of red meat, onions, carrots, etc. that look like they belong in your dinner, not your dog’s. I don’t think fly larvae will have that effect.

On the other hand, many owners impart to their pets their own attitudes, feelings, etc. Someone who believes that conventional agriculture, especially meat raising, is wrecking the planet, could very well see it as appropriate to enlist his dog in the cause – especially since, unlike other family members, Fido can’t say no.

This is something that the market will have to sort out. At least we can take comfort in knowing that determined vegetarians will have a nutritionally sound option for their pet. This is probably more important for the pet than the owner.

A friend once recalled how a co-worker was complaining that her cat had become lethargic. In the course of the conversation, she let slip that she had the cat on a “strict vegan diet.”

My friend tried to convince her that cats are “obligate carnivores,” meaning they need meat to be healthy, but she wasn’t hearing it. Finally, he told her that the cat probably needed to “let off some steam” and that she should let him out at night.

A week or so later, she told him cheerfully that she’d taken his advice and the cat was fully recovered. My friend smiled to himself and never told her that the cat was feeling good because he’d been out catching, in the form of small birds and rodents, the fresh meat he needed.