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Shockingly, trillions of insects are killed per year, for food and for animal feed. But, perhaps what is even more surprising is the fact that, according to recent studies, insects can apparently feel pain, contrary to what many people had thought. And, with the increase in demand for insect-based alternatives to traditional animal agriculture, insect farming is at an all-time high. Science X examined 300+ studies and discovered that there is evidence that some — if not all — insects feel pain in some form.

On an average day, there can be anywhere from 79 billion to 94 billion insects on farms worldwide. (Note that this research does not include insects that are farmed for their by-products, such as bees, as well as wild insects that are collected). The countries where insect farming is most prominent include Canada, China, France, South Africa, and the United States. Insects have long been killed for silk, shellac, and for numerous other products. Most notably, farmers tend to spray odious amounts of chemicals on their fields, thereby killing even more insects via pesticides. And, what is more, these animals end up dying from asphyxiation, paralysis, or the dissolution of internal organs, which can take days and therefore includes a fair amount of suffering.

So, how can insect welfare be improved? Experts suggest finding more humane methods of slaughter, although the phrase “humane slaughter” is essentially an oxymoron. Many who advocate for animal welfare leave insects out of the equation, with the belief that they do not count as so-called “sentient beings.” But, thanks to some innovative technology that enables us to understand the inner workings of insects, we should be able to identify insects as truly sentient beings who feel pain. Backyard Brains, a neuroscience education company, created the RoboRoach, which consists of “Bluetooth signal-processing microelectronics” that are attached to a living cockroach‘s back. This allows the user to remote-control a cockroach, which can be a great educational tool, but is such an invasive tool much better than killing these bugs?

In a recent study involving bumblebees, scientists set out to find out if these bees’ “attraction to high sucrose solution concentrations” can lower their “avoidance of noxious heat.” They were given the choice of either going to noxiously heated or unheated feeders — marked with different colors — with various sucrose concentrations. Overall, they seemed to avoid the noxious feeders when unheated feeders had higher concentrations of sucrose, and returned to the noxious feeders when the concentrations were lower. This proves, scientists say, that the bees “used learned color cues for their decisions” and it was determined that they could use “contextual information to modulate nociceptive behavior.” In other words, yes, insects do feel pain.

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