Do Vegans Kill Bugs? The Ethics of Crop Deaths and Insect Infestations | The Minimalist Vegan (2022)

Do vegans kill bugs? Yes, some vegans intentionally kill insects in response to infestations, fear or self-defence. And mere human existence causes unintentional deaths to bugs every second.

Since going vegan in 2014, I’ve murdered flies, mosquitos, ticks and vacuumed up the odd spider. Not to mention the slugs I’ve washed down the drain found in my organic broccoli because I couldn’t see them. Yet, I don’t consume honey or silk because of bee, and silkworm exploitation. Am I a hypocrite?

I’m not alone in this. Ethical vegans and animal lovers trying to grow veggies at home are confronted with the dilemma of dealing with birds, possums, rats and bugs taking their food.

Then you have the poor folks in warmer climates managing mass ant invasions.

Maybe you’re resentful towards moths for ruining your clothes. Or you’re genuinely freaked out by cockroaches—so you kill them on sight.

If that’s not enough, a day spent with a crop farmer will make any vegan uncomfortable. Harmful chemicals and industrial machinery wipe out bugs at scale. And farmers don’t hesitate to trap or shoot any “pest” that comes within range of their food.

The demand for these crops undoubtedly increases the number of crop-related insect deaths.

So, where does that leave vegans on the bug issue? Let’s start with insect sentience.

Do insects feel pain?

To answer this question, we need to understand the difference between nociception and pain.

Nociception is the process by which the body detects potentially harmful stimuli and produces a reflexive response to protect itself.

Pain, on the other hand, is a subjective experience that results from nociception. In other words, pain is the mind’s interpretation of nociceptive signals.

Insects don’t have the same sophisticated nervous system as humans, so they’re not capable of experiencing pain in the same way we do. For instance, bugs will continue their regular activity even after sustaining an injury.

According to a 1984 paper, Do insects feel pain? – A biological view, researchers couldn’t find an example of insects showing protective behaviour towards injured body parts, such as limping after a leg injury or avoiding eating or mating due to abdominal pain.

A very different experience to invertebrates like a dog, who typically yelp when in pain and then try to avoid anything that may aggravate the injury.

In saying that, insects do have nociceptors that allow them to detect potentially harmful stimuli. Bugs often display a reflexive response when these receptors are stimulated, such as moving away from the stimulus or trying to escape.

Some research shows that insects can display emotional responses like pessimism. In this study, researchers trained bees to associate a scent with a sweet taste (something that tastes good) and another smell with a bitter taste (something that tastes bad).

Then they took half of the bees and shook them for 60 seconds. When they tested the bees again, they found that the bees that had been shaken were less likely to respond to the positive smell associated with something sweet. So the bees behaved pessimistically—an example of interpreting and predicting pain.

So although insects don’t appear to experience pain in the same way that we do, they’re still able to sense and respond to potentially harmful stimuli and, in some instances, can intellectualize emotion. It’s plausible to say that insects are sentient beings—however, each species would need to be evaluated individually for a more accurate presumption.

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I understand this is a dicey conclusion. Some folks consider themselves entovegans happy to eat plants and insects but not other animals.

If you’re interested in learning more about how insect farming stacks up against animal and crop production from a sustainable and ethical perspective, check out the video below.

The Argument for Eating Insects (Instead of Going Vegan)

While I acknowledge that insects are alien to humans, and we don’t have conclusive research on their ability to experience pain, we know enough to give them some moral consideration.

So for this article, let’s assume that insects are feeling sentient animals. Is it then okay to kill bugs as a vegan? Below are various scenarios.

Scenario 1 – intentionally and unnecessarily killing bugs

You’ve likely seen a child stomp on ants for fun or remove a grasshopper’s limbs out of curiosity.

These situations involve intentionally and unnecessarily killing an insect. And I would argue that it’s not okay to do this as a vegan.

While the insect isn’t experiencing pain as mammals do, they’re still sentient beings with the capacity to feel fear, anxiety, and stress. So there’s no need to cause them unnecessary suffering.

If the inconvenience is an issue, create a dedicated bug clearing kit with a jar and some thin cardboard, so you’re ready to politely escort insects out of your house.

Scenario 2 – intentionally harming insects for self-defence

Insects are capable of causing us harm, too. Some can transmit diseases, while others can sting or bite. For example, ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas can carry diseases like Lyme disease, malaria, and the bubonic plague.

And while most insect bites or stings aren’t dangerous to humans, some people have severe allergic reactions that can be life-threatening.

So if an insect is posing a threat to your safety or the safety of others, and you can’t politely shoo them away, then it’s okay to kill them as a vegan.

Scenario 3 – intentionally killing bugs to protect from an infestation

Every summer for a month, my pantry gets infested by sugar ants. They’re incredibly persistent, and if I leave them, they create trails all over the house and attack our food. So I deal with them. It sucks. I don’t like it. But living with an infestation isn’t an option.

If you have an infestation in your home, and all other efforts to remove them ethically have failed, then it’s probably okay to kill them as a vegan.

Scenario 4 – accidentally killing bugs

Let’s say you’re walking through a park minding your own business when a wasp suddenly starts buzzing around your head. You swat at it in panic and accidentally kill the wasp.

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In this situation, the wasp wasn’t posing any threat to you, and you didn’t intend to kill it. The same thing when you walk on a footpath unknowingly squishing bugs or running over them with your car.

There’s no way to avoid harming or killing insects when we share the same outdoor spaces. And while it’s not ideal, these deaths are accidental and unavoidable.

Scenario 5 – intentionally killing insects out of annoyance or fear

This is the scenario where I question my moral compass as a vegan. I’ll come out and say it. I hate flies. I hated them for as long as I remember—before and after going vegan.

The thought of them buzzing in my ear or bothering me when I’m trying to talk with friends on a hot summer’s day makes my blood boil.

My first preference is to tolerate annoying and invasive bugs like flies. I shoo them, escort them out of the house, and 99% of the time, that’s okay.

But when they get too much, I sometimes resort to fighting back. At some point, it gets personal. So call me a hypocrite. I accept it. And I respect those of you who are highly tolerent and unbothered by these annoyances.

We all have different relationships with bugs and insects. But even if you’re like me and detest certain species, or alternatively, you’re scared of them—it doesn’t mean we should kill insects without first trying to remove them without any harm. If the situation becomes unmanageable and unavoidable, it’s your call to do next.

Scenario 6 – indirect insect deaths caused by crop production

A recurring argument against veganism is that crop farming causes the death of insects. And it’s true, during production, there will almost always be indirect insect deaths from:

  • Soil disturbance (e.g. ploughing)
  • Pesticides and herbicides
  • Draining of wetlands
  • Deforestation

This is the unfortunate reality of human existence. The moment we start interacting with the world, we’re indirectly causing harm to others.

According to the World Health Organisation, almost 2 million people die annually from work-related causes. The occupational risk factors include; air pollution, long-work hours, asthmagens, carcinogens, ergonomic risk factors, and noise. Most of which are preventable.

The WHO Global Road Safety Report highlights that 1.35 million people are killed yearly due to road traffic. Again, preventable.

Does this mean we need to stop working or driving vehicles? Many would consider that to be an unfeasible solution.

Instead, governing bodies implement laws and regulations to minimize human deaths across industries. And a similar approach is needed to mitigate crop-related bug deaths.

We can do our best to reduce these deaths by supporting farmers who use more sustainable practices.

For example, some farmers use companion planting—a method of growing different plants that benefit each other. This type of agriculture discourages pests and reduces the need for harmful pesticides that often kill innocent insects.

We can also support organic farmers who don’t use synthetic pesticides or herbicides on their crops.

Read more: Why Sustainable Products Are More Expensive (And How To Save Money)

Admittedly, there’s still a long way to go in developing sustainable agriculture methods that don’t indirectly cause insect deaths. But by supporting these initiatives, we can help create the demand for change.

Do vegans kill more animals than omnivores?

The simple answer is no. Vegans do not kill more animals than omnivores. The opposite is true. Livestock production is one of the leading causes of animal death worldwide, and it also takes a significant toll on insect populations.

To produce the vast quantities of feed required by livestock farms, crops are frequently treated with pesticides that kill unfathamorable amounts of insects yearly.

Furthermore, clearing land for grazing and farming is a significant driver of habitat loss, leading to the demise of countless animal species. As a result, veganism is more humane from an animal rights perspective.

If you want to get specific, google “best cow feed formula”. You’ll find that the most optimal cattle feed formulas include crops like:

  • Wheat bran
  • Soybean meal
  • Maize grain
  • Sunflower meal
  • Cotton seed cake
  • Rice

According to a research paper by the University of Minnesota, just 55% of crop calories are consumed by humans, 36% is used for animal feed, and the remaining 9% is attributed to biofuels, and other industry uses.

Then approximately 83% of agricultural land is used for animal farming, while 55 billion marine and land animals are killed directly for food each year (source).

With this combination of direct animal deaths for human consumption and indirect deaths from animal feed and deforestation for animal agriculture, it’s clear that omnivores kill significantly more animals than vegans, insects included.

So if we accept that veganism is about reducing harm to sentient beings as much as is practical, even when it comes to insect suffering, veganism is still a morally preferable lifestyle.

We still need to do everything we can to minimize insect deaths, but I also understand that sustainable organic crop farming isn’t yet feasible on a global scale.

Do vegans kill bugs? Final thoughts

There’s no doubt that veganism is the more humane from an animal rights perspective, but that doesn’t mean vegans can rest easy knowing they’re not harming any animals.

The sad reality is that crop farming inevitably kills insects, and as long as we rely on plants for food, there’s no way to avoid it.

What we can do, however, is support sustainable agriculture initiatives that minimize insect death and habitat loss. We can also be mindful of our impact by choosing organic products whenever possible.

And when it comes to dealing with insects in your home, remember that most of them are just trying to find a place to live, not looking for a fight. So please, do your best to show them some compassion. After all, they’re just doing what comes naturally to them.

You must decide what level of harm you’re comfortable causing other beings. That’s what veganism is about. I’m happy to do my part in reducing unnecessary insect suffering, even if it means my actions aren’t perfect.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Let me know in the comments below.

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FAQs

Do Vegans Kill Bugs? The Ethics of Crop Deaths and Insect Infestations | The Minimalist Vegan? ›

The simple answer is no. Vegans do not kill more animals than omnivores. The opposite is true. Livestock production is one of the leading causes of animal death worldwide, and it also takes a significant toll on insect populations.

Are vegans allowed to kill flies? ›

Some vegans won't kill any insects. Some vegans will kill insects that suck their blood or may cause some form of harm. I generally try to remove the insect – saying “shoo fly!” to flies works really well…) but sometimes – depending on moods and how irritating said insect is – I will remove by any means possible.

Does vegan include bugs? ›

Is eating an insect vegan? Simply put, no. An insect is a living being and by definition, killing and eating a living being is not classified as vegan.

How do vegans feel about insects? ›

Vegans held the most rigid negative attitude toward consuming foods of insect origin, and their subjective norm to eat insects was weaker compared to that of omnivores and non-vegan vegetarians.

Does growing vegan food kill animals? ›

Millions of animals are killed every year, Davis says, to prepare land for growing crops, "like corn, soybean, wheat and barley, the staples of a vegan diet."

Can you kill bugs as a vegan? ›

Yes, some vegans intentionally kill insects in response to infestations, fear or self-defence. And mere human existence causes unintentional deaths to bugs every second. Since going vegan in 2014, I've murdered flies, mosquitos, ticks and vacuumed up the odd spider.

Are vegans allowed to kill mosquitoes? ›

It violates the definition of vegan, as it is both practical and possible to not kill mosquitoes.

Do insects feel pain vegan? ›

Researchers have looked at how insects respond to injury, and come to the conclusion that there is evidence to suggest that they feel something akin to what humans class as pain.

Is it ethical to eat bugs? ›

The low probability that farmed insects suffer pain, if they can “suffer” at all, combined with the environmental and social benefits of insect farming, caused philosopher Chris Meyers to argue that eating insects is not only morally acceptable but also morally good.

Is peanut butter vegan bugs? ›

Spices such as ground oregano can contain up to 1250 bits of insect per 10 grams! Ground cinnamon can contain a maximum of 400 or bits of insect and 11 rodent hairs per 50 gram. Peanut butter can contain up to 30 bits of insect and one rodent hair per 100 grams.

Can vegans eat honey? ›

Vegans try to avoid or minimize all forms of animal exploitation, including that of bees. As a result, most vegans exclude honey from their diets.

Can vegans eat bacteria? ›

Do vegans eat probiotics, bacteria and yeast. These organisms are all fine to consume. The reasoning behind this is that these things lack nervous systems and thus are almost certainly not sentient (the ability to suffer or experience pain) in any way. They're pretty much in the same league as plants really.

Do vegans actually save animals? ›

It suggests that 95 "is the average number of animals spared each year by one person's vegan diet." There are a variety of sources estimating average individual intakes of meat. A story in USA Today Wednesday reported that each meat-eating individual eats 7,000 animals (including fish) over their lifetimes.

What happens to animals if we all go vegan? ›

Billions of farm animals would no longer be destined for our dinner plates and if we couldn't return them to the wild, they might be slaughtered, abandoned, or taken care of in sanctuaries. Or, more realistically, farmers might slow down breeding as demand for meat falls.

How many animals do vegans save a year? ›

It's the Best Way to Help Animals

Did you know that every vegan saves nearly 200 animals per year? There is simply no easier way to help animals and prevent suffering than by choosing plant-based foods over meat, eggs, and dairy “products.”

Is it ethical to kill bugs? ›

"Insect killing" is strictly an ecological concern due to the use of potentially harmful insecticides, and the event of killing a single insect is quantitatively neglectable.

Is it cruel to kill cockroaches? ›

That said, the best way to keep roaches and other insects out is to make your home as undesirable to them as possible. Killing cockroaches is cruel and futile. Unless you make your home less attractive and accessible to them, killing some roaches will simply create a void that others will soon fill.

How does PETA feel about bugs? ›

But PETA encourages nonlethal methods of insect and rodent control whenever possible. Fortunately, you can control most insects safely and naturally with products that you probably have in your kitchen cabinets right now. Ants in your kitchen, bathroom, or basement?

How do vegans get rid of ants? ›

Put cinnamon sticks, coffee grinds, chili peppers, paprika, cloves, or dried peppermint leaves near any openings that ants can fit through. Squeeze the juice of a lemon at the entry spot and leave the peel there. Planting mint around the foundation of the house will also keep ants away.

How do vegans get rid of flies? ›

Lavender and basil act as fly repellents. Lavender flowers are as beautiful as they are useful, and basil can also be used in your pasta dinners.

Do insects feel pain? ›

Over 15 years ago, researchers found that insects, and fruit flies in particular, feel something akin to acute pain called “nociception.” When they encounter extreme heat, cold or physically harmful stimuli, they react, much in the same way humans react to pain.

How do vegans get rid of flies? ›

Lavender and basil act as fly repellents. Lavender flowers are as beautiful as they are useful, and basil can also be used in your pasta dinners.

Is it ethical to kill bugs? ›

"Insect killing" is strictly an ecological concern due to the use of potentially harmful insecticides, and the event of killing a single insect is quantitatively neglectable.

How do vegans get rid of ants? ›

Put cinnamon sticks, coffee grinds, chili peppers, paprika, cloves, or dried peppermint leaves near any openings that ants can fit through. Squeeze the juice of a lemon at the entry spot and leave the peel there. Planting mint around the foundation of the house will also keep ants away.

Is it cruel to kill mosquitoes? ›

Killing these species is not necessary: in fact, it's counterproductive. The more than 90 species of one such harmless genus, Toxorhynchites, also known as the “elephant mosquito” because of their great size, are an ally to our cause: their larvae eat other mosquito larvae!

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