The scale of direct human impact on invertebrates

Summary

  • Cur­rently, es­ti­mates of the num­ber of in­ver­te­brates used or kil­led by hu­mans are very poor.

  • Sum­ming the rigor­ous es­ti­mates that ex­ist, at least 7.2 trillion to 26 trillion in­ver­te­brates an­nu­ally are kil­led di­rectly by hu­mans, and 18 trillion to 40 trillion are used but not kil­led an­nu­ally.

  • I out­line some of the largest in­ver­te­brate in­dus­tries, and es­ti­mate the to­tal num­ber of in­ver­te­brates used or kil­led by hu­mans.

  • I don’t look at in­di­rect deaths, such as in­ver­te­brates im­pacted by cli­mate change.

  • In to­tal, not in­clud­ing ne­ma­todes, I be­lieve be­tween 100 trillion and 10 quadrillion in­ver­te­brates are di­rectly kil­led or used an­nu­ally by hu­mans.

    • The ma­jor­ity of this im­pact is caused by the ap­pli­ca­tion of agri­cul­tural pes­ti­cides.

Introduction

The effec­tive al­tru­ist case for work­ing on farmed an­i­mals has his­tor­i­cally fo­cused on both the sheer num­ber of farmed an­i­mals, and the rel­a­tive ne­glect­ed­ness of farmed an­i­mals. Groups have ar­gued that due to the vast num­ber of farmed an­i­mals, more fund­ing ought to be di­rected to re­duc­ing their suffer­ing.

Usu­ally what ac­tivists have in mind are ver­te­brate an­i­mals (e.g., cows, chick­ens, pigs). While it seems clear that ver­te­brate an­i­mals on fac­tory farms live through tremen­dous suffer­ing, the ver­te­brate an­i­mals hu­mans eat ac­tu­ally make up a tiny minor­ity of the to­tal an­i­mals farmed and used by hu­mans. In­ver­te­brates (in­sects, mol­luscs, crus­taceans, and oth­ers) make up the vast ma­jor­ity of farmed an­i­mals, and the vast ma­jor­ity of an­i­mals that are harmed by hu­mans (com­pare the figures in these es­ti­mates to pre­vi­ous es­ti­mates of the scale of ver­te­brates in cap­tivity). Fur­ther­more, there are only a hand­ful of groups work­ing on pro­jects that di­rectly help these an­i­mals, and even fewer that have an EA, or even an­i­mal welfare fo­cused ap­proach.

In this piece, I briefly out­line many (hope­fully most, but I’m find­ing new ones reg­u­larly) of the in­dus­tries that use or farm in­ver­te­brates, and provide es­ti­mates if available of the num­ber of in­ver­te­brates kil­led or used an­nu­ally in the in­dus­try. For in­dus­tries where es­ti­mates don’t ex­ist, I at­tempt to give a range in which I sus­pect the ac­cu­rate num­ber of in­di­vi­d­u­als im­pacted might lie. This is meant to be the be­gin­ning of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion rather than the end and re­lies a lot on sim­ple back-of-the-en­velope calcu­la­tions. I hope this piece will be a use­ful overview and help roughly pri­ori­tize where to in­vest more rigor­ous anal­y­sis, rather than provide an ex­act con­clu­sion.

Note that this doc­u­ment is only about the in­ver­te­brates who are im­pacted di­rectly by hu­mans. While this in­cludes both farmed and wild in­sects (e.g. black sol­dier flies are both kil­led on farms and kil­led by bug zap­pers), it does not in­clude in­ver­te­brates harmed through fully or even par­tially natur­o­genic pro­cesses, which prob­a­bly ac­count for the vast ma­jor­ity of harm caused to in­ver­te­brates. It also doesn’t in­clude many in­ver­te­brates in­di­rectly im­pacted by hu­mans, such as in­ver­te­brates who will in­evitably have their lives changed by an­thro­pogenic cli­mate change.

Note that this sum­mary in­cludes some an­i­mals for whom there is lit­tle ev­i­dence demon­strat­ing a ca­pac­ity to have valenced ex­pe­riences, such as bi­valves. In the spirit of be­ing com­pre­hen­sive, these an­i­mals and the in­dus­tries that im­pact them are in­cluded, though it is hard to say what our moral obli­ga­tions to them might be.

Also, an­i­mal use is bro­ken into two cat­e­gories — an­nual deaths and used an­nu­ally. “An­nual deaths” in­di­cates the num­ber of in­di­vi­d­u­als who likely die due to the in­dus­try. “Used an­nu­ally” refers to an­i­mals who are not kil­led di­rectly by the in­dus­try, and these an­i­mals might even have very good lives un­der hu­man care. The in­ten­tion of this doc­u­ment is to serve as a guide to the scale of in­dus­try in terms of in­di­vi­d­u­als im­pacted, as op­posed to a guide of the scale of suffer­ing. It is to give a sense of the many ways in which in­ver­te­brate lives and welfare are en­tan­gled with our own.

This piece doesn’t in­clude many in­dus­tries which seem to min­i­mally use in­ver­te­brates, such as the ink gall in­dus­try, which uses galls pro­duced by wasp lar­vae to make ink, of­ten af­ter the lar­vae have meta­mor­phosed and left the gall. It also doesn’t in­clude many small in­dus­tries, such as sea sponge pro­duc­tion (which per­haps ought not be in­cluded given the lack of ev­i­dence or rea­son to be­lieve that sea sponges have valenced ex­pe­riences, de­spite be­ing an­i­mals). I’ve in­cluded in­for­ma­tion in­dus­tries that both seem some­what large, and that I don’t think enough English lan­guage in­for­ma­tion ex­ists to make a guess at their scale, such as the live fish­ing bait in­dus­try.

Which and how many in­ver­te­brates are used or kil­led by hu­mans?

Below are out­lines of ma­jor in­dus­tries that use in­ver­te­brates, and a brief de­scrip­tion of the in­dus­try. I provide some notes on how many in­di­vi­d­u­als the in­dus­try might im­pact.

A full list of in­ver­te­brates used or kil­led by hu­mans listed by com­mon name can be found in this spread­sheet, al­though this list is not tax­o­nom­i­cally pre­cise, and might group an­i­mals at the or­der, fam­ily, or genus level. Some an­i­mals are grouped due to the es­ti­mates be­ing not par­tic­u­larly pre­cise at the species level, and oth­ers are for ease of ex­plain­ing their use, to keep the list man­age­able.

Cur­rently, es­ti­mates of the num­ber of in­ver­te­brates farmed or harmed by hu­mans are few and far be­tween. Ad­ding up the ex­ist­ing rigor­ous es­ti­mates, I find that at least 29 trillion to 59 trillion in­ver­te­brates are kil­led or used by hu­mans an­nu­ally. Note that this in­volves adding es­ti­mates that have differ­ent sub­jec­tive con­fi­dence in­ter­vals, which might re­sult in some is­sues with us­ing it as a con­crete mea­sure­ment. I be­lieve the ac­tual count is likely an or­der of mag­ni­tude higher due to how lit­tle in­for­ma­tion there is on in­ver­te­brate in­dus­tries.

Ex­clud­ing in­sects kil­led by pes­ti­cides, I be­lieve it is very likely that over 100 trillion (10^14) in­ver­te­brates are kil­led or used by hu­mans, and pos­si­bly over 1 quadrillion (10^15). If we in­clude in­sects kil­led by pes­ti­cides, the count could be as high as 10 quadrillion (10^16).

This means that there are at least 40 times as many in­ver­te­brates used or kil­led by hu­mans than all ver­te­brates kil­led or used for food, and pos­si­bly as many as 12,000 times as many in­ver­te­brates used or kil­led by hu­mans.

Th­ese es­ti­mates are dom­i­nated by mem­bers of class In­secta, pri­mar­ily due to the num­ber of in­sects kil­led by pes­ti­cides. I did not in­clude ne­ma­todes used or kil­led by hu­mans in many of my fi­nal es­ti­mates. It is ex­tremely tricky to as­sess how many ne­ma­todes might be in­volved in hu­man in­dus­try. I in­cluded some notes about in­dus­tries that use ne­ma­todes, but un­for­tu­nately they did not make the fi­nal es­ti­mates. If I had found an ap­proach for es­ti­mat­ing their nu­meros­ity, ne­ma­todes might have in­creased the scale of these in­dus­tries sig­nifi­cantly. Be­sides in­sects, an­nelids, crus­taceans, and mol­luscs are the most com­mon an­i­mals used or kil­led by hu­mans.

Note that most es­ti­mates in this are ex­tremely spec­u­la­tive, and I in­clude a rat­ing of my sub­jec­tive con­fi­dence in my sense of the scale of the in­dus­try.

TypeCoun­t
In­ver­te­brates for whom rigor­ous es­ti­mates ex­ist—kil­led an­nu­ally7.2 trillion to 26 trillion
In­ver­te­brates for whom rigor­ous es­ti­mates ex­ist—used an­nu­ally18 trillion to 40 trillion
In­ver­te­brates for whom rigor­ous es­ti­mates ex­ist—kil­led and used an­nu­ally29 trillion to 57 trillion

Fig. 1 — Sum­mary of ex­ist­ing rigor­ous es­ti­mates of in­ver­te­brates kil­led and used by hu­mans.

In­dus­try

Ap­prox­i­mate Scale

Sub­jec­tive Con­fi­dence in Ac­cu­racy of Scale

Pri­mary Classes Impacted

Pes­ti­cides—Agri­cul­tural

100 trillion to 10 quadrillion an­nual deaths

Low

Insecta

Food and Feed Pro­duc­tion

10 trillion to 100 trillion used an­nu­ally, 1 trillion to 10 trillion an­nual deaths

Medium

In­secta, Mala­cos­traca, Cephalopoda, Gas­tropoda, Bivalvia

Carmine /​ Dye Pro­duc­tion

4.6 trillion to 21 trillion an­nual deaths

High

Insecta

Shel­lac Pro­duc­tion

1 trillion to 100 trillion an­nual deaths

Low

Insecta

Waste Pro­cess­ing

1 trillion to 100 trillion used annually

Very Low

Clitellata

Pes­ti­cides—Res­i­den­tial /​ Com­mer­cial

1 trillion to 10 trillion an­nual deaths

Low

In­secta, Arachnida

Pol­li­na­tion and Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vices

1 trillion to 10 trillion used annually

Low

Insecta

Silk Pro­duc­tion

400 billion to 1 trillion an­nual deaths

High

Insecta

Chi­tosan Pro­duc­tion

10 billion to 100 billion an­nual deaths

Low

Mala­cos­traca, Insecta

Biolog­i­cal Con­trol and War­fare

1 billion to 1 trillion used annually

Low

In­secta, Phy­lum Nematoda

S­ter­ile In­sect Tech­nique

1 billion to 100 billion used annually

Low

Insecta

Med­i­cal Ser­vices

1 billion to 100 billion used and deaths annually

Low

Order Xipho­sura, Clitel­lata, Insecta

Fer­til­izer Pro­duc­tion

< 1 billion an­nual deaths

Low

Mala­cos­traca, Insecta

S­cien­tific Re­search

100 mil­lion to 10 billion used annually

Low

In­secta, Phy­lum Nematoda

E­d­u­ca­tion /​ En­ter­tain­men­t

20 mil­lion to 1 billion used annually

Low

In­secta, Mala­cos­traca, Cephalopoda

Pearl Pro­duc­tion

< 10 mil­lion used annually

Low

Bivalvia

Fish­ing Bait

???

N/​A

Clitel­lata, Insecta

Scale Wax Production

???

N/​A

Insecta

Fig. 2 — Sum­mary of ap­prox­i­mate scales of var­i­ous in­dus­tries that use invertebrates

Biolog­i­cal Con­trol and Warfare

In­dus­try Description

In­sects, like par­a­sitic wasps and med­flies are com­monly used for biolog­i­cal con­trol. They are re­leased into re­gions in or­der to re­duce the pop­u­la­tions of other in­sects and in­ver­te­brates. While this es­ti­mate only in­cludes in­sects, ne­ma­todes are widely used for biolog­i­cal con­trol as well (you can buy 250 mil­lion live ne­ma­todes for around $300 USD at time of writ­ing). Re­lat­edly, in­sects have his­tor­i­cally been used for war­fare, typ­i­cally to de­stroy crops or to dis­tribute pathogens.

Scale

One un­pub­lished in­for­mal es­ti­mate of in­sects used for biolog­i­cal con­trol es­ti­mates that be­tween 80 and 270 billion in­sects are used an­nu­ally for biolog­i­cal con­trol. Given the in­for­mal­ity of this es­ti­mate, I’d guess that any­where from 10 billion to 1 trillion in­sects are used an­nu­ally for biolog­i­cal con­trol. I sus­pect the cur­rent num­ber of in­sects used for war­fare is very low.

Carmine /​ Dye Production

In­dus­try Description

Carmine is a type of red dye pro­duced by kil­ling scale in­sects. While the most com­mon type is pro­duced from cochineals (Dacty­lopius coc­cus), a hand­ful of other species pro­duce re­lated prod­ucts, such as ker­mes and Pol­ish cochineal. See Global Cochineal Pro­duc­tion: Scale, Welfare Con­cerns, and Po­ten­tial In­ter­ven­tions.

Scale

Prob­a­bly be­tween 4.6 trillion and 21 trillion an­nual deaths caused by the in­dus­try.

Chi­tosan Production

In­dus­try Description

Chi­tosan is a widely used polysac­cha­ride de­rived from the chitin of shrimp and other crus­taceans. It is used for a wide va­ri­ety of pur­poses, from wine­mak­ing to agri­cul­ture to paint pro­duc­tion. Shrimp are the largest source of chi­tosan, but it can also be made from crab shells and black sol­dier flies.

Scale

No known es­ti­mates ex­ist of how many in­ver­te­brates are used for chi­tosan pro­duc­tion. I be­lieve much of the shrimp used for chi­tosan pro­duc­tion is also turned into food or fer­til­izer, but at least some shrimp, crabs, and black sol­dier flies are har­vested ex­clu­sively for chitin. A very quick back-of-the-en­velope es­ti­mate sug­gests that the to­tal cur­rent chitin mar­ket re­quires around 30 billion shrimp to pro­duce. I don’t know how this figure in­ter­sects with the ex­ist­ing es­ti­mates of shrimp farmed for food. My best guess is be­tween 10 billion and 100 billion an­nual deaths are caused di­rectly by the in­dus­try.

Ed­u­ca­tion /​ Entertainment

In­dus­try Description

In­sects and other in­ver­te­brates are used in a va­ri­ety of ed­u­ca­tional and en­ter­tain­ment set­tings. This in­cludes in­ver­te­brates used in: build­ing recre­ational and com­mer­cial but­terfly habitats, zoo and aquar­ium col­lec­tions, in­sect fight­ing, pet own­er­ship, dec­o­ra­tion, cer­e­mo­nial re­leases, and recre­ational bug pin­ning.

Scale

A 2012 study es­ti­mated that 5-10 mil­lion but­terfly pu­pae are sold an­nu­ally. There are at least 5 mil­lion in­sect pets in South Korea. But, most of these uses of in­ver­te­brates are fairly small in scale, so the to­tal in­dus­try seems likely to be be­tween 20 mil­lion and 1 billion in­ver­te­brates used an­nu­ally.

Fer­til­izer Production

In­dus­try Description

Crabs and lob­sters are a rel­a­tively un­com­mon fer­til­izer. I don’t know of any re­search look­ing into the pro­duc­tion of these fer­til­iz­ers, but I do not be­lieve they make up a ma­jor part of the in­dus­try, or any­thing near the to­tals of crabs and lob­sters caught for food. Black sol­dier fly and other in­sect frass is also sold as fer­til­izer, though of­ten this is a byproduct from in­sect feed farms.

Scale

Un­clear, prob­a­bly less than 1 billion kil­led an­nu­ally, given that to­tal crab farm­ing is only es­ti­mated to be 5 billion to 14 billion an­nu­ally.

Fish­ing Bait

In­dus­try Description

A va­ri­ety of in­sects, an­nelids, and other in­ver­te­brates are raised as fish­ing bait. Th­ese an­i­mals are ei­ther sold dead, or are kil­led by ei­ther be­ing speared with a fish­ing hook (seems less likely, since the point is for the worm to wig­gle for the fish), or be­ing fed live to a fish.

Scale

I be­lieve from re­search into the in­sect farm­ing in­dus­try that fish­ing bait is a very small per­centage of the to­tal in­dus­try. Ar­tifi­cial bait is widely used as well. I also be­lieve most in­ver­te­brate fish­ing bait might be an­nelids. It’s pretty easy to buy up to 250 worms as bait at once. Given the low amount of in­for­ma­tion on this in­dus­try, I don’t think I can es­ti­mate its scale.

Food and Feed Production

In­dus­try Description

Many in­ver­te­brates are used for hu­man and an­i­mal food and an­i­mal feed, in­clud­ing crick­ets to crabs to cut­tlefish to clams, hu­mans raise or catch sev­eral phyla of in­ver­te­brates. Th­ese an­i­mals are both raised on farms and caught wild.

Scale

Es­ti­mates ex­ist for some in­sects raised for food, farmed crus­taceans, gas­tropods, and oc­topi (un­pub­lished) kil­led for food. Es­ti­mates also ex­ist for hon­ey­bees used in food pro­duc­tion and pol­li­na­tion ser­vices (con­ver­sion to to­tal used an­nu­ally here). I haven’t found es­ti­mates for many cephalopods (e.g. squids), krill, or bi­valves (clams, oys­ters, etc.). But, a back-of-the-en­velope con­ver­sion of the 200,000 tonnes of krill kil­led an­nu­ally, as­sum­ing a weight of 2 grams each, sug­gests as many 100 billion are kil­led an­nu­ally. The to­tal num­ber of in­ver­te­brates kil­led for food is there­fore likely be­tween 1 trillion and 10 trillion kil­led an­nu­ally, and be­tween 10 trillion and 100 trillion are used but not kil­led an­nu­ally in food pro­duc­tion (mostly hon­ey­bees). Note that this es­ti­mate also in­cludes in­sects used to pro­duce beeswax, which is used in some pro­cesses out­side food.

Med­i­cal Services

In­dus­try Description

A va­ri­ety of in­ver­te­brates are used in the med­i­cal in­dus­try, such as leeches used for bleed­ing, horse­shoe crab blood used in phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal test­ing, or mag­gots used for ul­cer treat­ment. This doesn’t in­clude some in­ver­te­brate prod­ucts listed el­se­where in this doc­u­ment, such as carmine used for col­or­ing med­i­ca­tion, shel­lac, snail slime, or mother-of-pearl cream.

Scale

Es­ti­mates ex­ist for the num­ber of horse­shoe crabs used for blood, but es­ti­mates are much less clear for other in­sects. I be­lieve med­i­cal mag­gots are of­ten kil­led af­ter be­ing used. Treat­ments seem rel­a­tively in­fre­quent in med­i­cal set­tings. How­ever, there are some uses of in­sects that might be con­sid­ered med­i­cal that are on a much larger scale, such as this fac­tory pro­duc­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine in­gre­di­ents, food, and cos­met­ics is us­ing 6 billion cock­roaches a year. It is un­clear if these fac­to­ries are counted in the in­sect pro­duc­tion mea­sures I used in my es­ti­mate of in­sects raised for food. My best guess is that be­tween 1 billion and 100 billion are kil­led or used an­nu­ally.

Pearl Production

In­dus­try Description

While many salt-wa­ter mol­luscs can pro­duce pearls, most har­vested for hu­man use come from farmed oys­ters and mus­sels. Most oys­ters and mus­sels aren’t kil­led as part of the har­vest­ing pro­cess, but some die from the har­vest­ing. Oys­ters can pro­duce sev­eral pearls si­mul­ta­neously.

Scale

A quick back-of-the-en­velope es­ti­mate, as­sum­ing around 20 pearls pro­duced per oys­ter per year, puts the to­tal num­ber of an­i­mals used at well un­der 10 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

Pes­ti­cides—Agricultural

In­dus­try Description

In­sects are kil­led by the ap­pli­ca­tion of pes­ti­cides to farms, fields, and nat­u­ral spaces across the globe. This is likely the sin­gle largest source of di­rect hu­man im­pact on in­sects. This also in­cludes crus­taceans kil­led on fish­eries, sea lice.

Scale

Wild An­i­mal Ini­ti­a­tive es­ti­mates that as many as 3.5 quadrillion in­sects live on in­sec­ti­cide treated farm­land in the US alone. I don’t know what per­centage of in­sects in a treated area are kil­led by pes­ti­cides, or how many treat­ments there are in a given year, but these in­sects will likely dom­i­nate any at­tempt to es­ti­mate the im­pact of pes­ti­cides. Ter­res­trial pes­ti­cides likely dom­i­nate, as it seems likely that only a few billion sea lice are kil­led an­nu­ally, which likely makes up a sig­nifi­cant frac­tion of aqua­cul­ture in­ver­te­brate pest treat­ment, but more re­search into the topic is needed. To­tal: be­tween 100 trillion and 10 quadrillion kil­led an­nu­ally.

Pes­ti­cides—Com­mer­cial /​ Residential

In­dus­try Description

This cat­e­gory in­cludes ev­ery­thing used to kill house­hold pets, such as over-the-counter treat­ments for “pest” in­sects, and com­mer­cial treat­ments for things like ter­mite in­fes­ta­tions. It also in­cludes the rel­a­tively small in­dus­tries of lice, sca­bies, and bed bug treat­ment.

Scale

Global ter­mite treat­ments, which are likely the sin­gle largest tar­get of non-agri­cul­tural pes­ti­cides, likely im­pact fewer than 10 trillion in­di­vi­d­u­als. Other in­dus­tries, such as sca­bies and bed bug treat­ments, are a frac­tion of the scale. I es­ti­mate these in­dus­tries kill be­tween 1 and 10 trillion in­di­vi­d­u­als an­nu­ally.

Pol­li­na­tion and Con­ser­va­tion Services

In­dus­try Description

Crop pol­li­na­tion ser­vices use bees and other in­sects to pol­li­nate fields. Farm­ers and landown­ers ship bee­keep­ers to bring bee pu­pae to their fields, a ser­vice that can im­prove yields on farms, and is es­sen­tial in many in­dus­tries, such as al­falfa pro­duc­tion. Bees seem to be the most com­mon pol­li­na­tor ser­vice used. Note that this es­ti­mate does not in­clude hon­ey­bees, which also serve as com­mer­cial pol­li­na­tors — these are listed un­der food pro­duc­tion. I’m also in­clud­ing in this es­ti­mate in­sects raised for con­ser­va­tion efforts and re­leased into the wild.

Scale

One un­pub­lished back-of-the-en­velope es­ti­mate ex­ists that puts the num­ber of bees used for pol­li­na­tion ser­vices be­tween 100 billion and 1 trillion al­ive at any given time, which I be­lieve would put the an­nual num­ber used some­where be­tween 1 trillion and 10 trillion in­sects. I don’t think other in­sects make up a sig­nifi­cant por­tion of the in­di­vi­d­u­als used for pol­li­na­tion and ecosys­tem ser­vices.

Scien­tific Research

In­dus­try Description

Many in­ver­te­brates are stud­ied in sci­en­tific labs, both as di­rect sub­jects of study, and as model or­ganisms. In par­tic­u­lar, fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) and ne­ma­todes (Caenorhab­di­tis el­e­gans) are widely used as model or­ganisms. Honey­bees (Apis), and a va­ri­ety of other in­ver­te­brates are also widely used.

Scale

Com­pletely un­known — I can’t find any good data on how many ne­ma­todes (in­clud­ing C. Ele­gans) might be in labs. There are at least 3,300 fruit fly labs globally (as of 2017). If each one has an av­er­age of 500 flies al­ive at any given time, that sug­gests an an­nual pop­u­la­tion of around 12 mil­lion in labs. So given that fruit flies are the most com­mon in­sect in labs, but that pop­u­la­tions might be higher in some labs my best guess is that be­tween 100 mil­lion and 10 billion in­di­vi­d­u­als, not in­clud­ing ne­ma­todes, are used in re­search labs an­nu­ally.

Shel­lac Production

In­dus­try Description

Shel­lac is a resin se­creted by fe­male lac bugs, and is used as a col­orant, food glaze, and wood finish, as is in a va­ri­ety of other in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial prod­ucts. It’s pri­mar­ily been re­placed by plant-de­rived lac­quers over the last cen­tury, but re­mains in use.

Scale

One un­pub­lished es­ti­mate of to­tal lac bug deaths, not in­clud­ing in­di­rect deaths (such as nymphs), puts the an­nual to­tal lac bugs kil­led at be­tween 300 billion and 900 billion. Since lac bugs are re­lated to cochineals, and given that for cochineals, the bulk of the deaths are young nymphs, we might rea­son­ably ex­pect 1 trillion to 100 trillion lac bugs deaths to be caused by the in­dus­try an­nu­ally.

Scale Wax Production

In­dus­try Description

Chi­nese Scale Wax (not beeswax, which is in­cluded in food pro­duc­tion) is pro­duced com­mer­cially by two species of scale in­sects. The pro­duc­tion seems to be pri­mar­ily in China, In­dia, and Ja­pan, and has a hand­ful of com­mer­cial uses, such as in pol­ishes, and some uses in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine.

Scale

In­for­ma­tion on in­dus­try size is ex­tremely limited, but the mar­ket seems to be some­what small. Pro­duc­tion meth­ods seem similar to cochineal and lac pro­duc­tion, but the mar­ket seems sig­nifi­cantly smaller. I am not mak­ing an es­ti­mate on this in­dus­try given my un­cer­tainty.

Silk Production

In­dus­try Description

Silk is pro­duced from boiling the co­coons of silk­worms.

Scale

I pro­duced a rel­a­tively rigor­ous es­ti­mate re­cently of global silk­worm deaths, though it doesn’t in­clude pre-slaugh­ter deaths. I re­cently spoke with a staff mem­ber at INSERCO, an in­dus­try group, about these deaths, and now don’t be­lieve pre-slaugh­ter deaths make up a large por­tion of the to­tal. 400 billion to 1 trillion deaths an­nu­ally.

Ster­ile In­sect Technique

In­dus­try Description

The ster­ile in­sect tech­nique is a method for re­duc­ing in­sect pop­u­la­tions by over­whelming a pop­u­la­tion with ster­ile male in­sects, caus­ing the pop­u­la­tion to crash af­ter a few gen­er­a­tions. Ster­ile in­sect tech­nique has been suc­cess­fully used to erad­i­cate screw­worms from the US in the 20th cen­tury, and has been used to re­duce the pop­u­la­tions of sev­eral species of fruit flies. Now, they are be­ing used to re­duce mosquito pop­u­la­tions in the US, Mex­ico, and South Amer­ica.

Scale

In the 60’s and 70’s, as many as 550 mil­lion ster­ile screw­worms were re­leased a week in the US as part of a ster­ile in­sect pro­gram that con­tinues to­day, though the vol­ume is sig­nifi­cantly smaller now. Given that re­leases are still reg­u­larly hap­pen­ing with mil­lions of mosquitos and screw­worms, I ex­pect that be­tween 1 billion and 100 billion ster­ile in­sects are re­leased an­nu­ally.

Waste Processing

In­dus­try Description

The waste pro­cess­ing space is mostly limited to com­mer­cial uses of an­nelids and black sol­dier flies. Both are used for waste pro­cess­ing to pro­duce fer­til­izer, and in the case of black sol­dier flies, to pro­duce food for hu­mans and an­i­mals.

Scale

I sus­pect that given that us­ing black sol­dier flies for waste pro­cess­ing is a rel­a­tively novel idea, the vast ma­jor­ity of in­ver­te­brates used in waste pro­cess­ing are an­nelids. This guide to ver­mi­com­post­ing sug­gests that around 1000 worms are needed per pound of food waste. As­sum­ing the av­er­age worm lives 3 months, and given that the largest ver­mi­com­post pro­ducer pro­cesses 50,000 met­ric tons a month, that sug­gests that at least 300 billion worms are used by this sin­gle pro­ducer. My best guess then is that the whole ver­mi­com­post in­dus­try in­volves the use of 1 trillion to 100 trillion in­di­vi­d­u­als.

Acknowledgements

This es­say is a pro­ject of Re­think Pri­ori­ties. It was writ­ten by Abra­ham Rowe. Thanks to Daniela R. Wald­horn, Ja­son Schukraft, Saulius Sim­cikas, and Peter Hur­ford for helpful feed­back. If you like our work, please con­sider sub­scribing to our newslet­ter. You can see all our work to date here.

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