A recent study has confirmed that insects have biological mechanisms that indicate they may have a subjective experience of pain similar to the pain humans experience, which supports the position of ethical vegans avoiding honey, shellac, silk, and products cultivated with pesticides.

The paper, titled “Descending control of nociception in insects?”, authored by Matilda Gibbons from the School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) in the UK, and published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, concludes that insects most likely have central nervous system control of nociception (the detection of potentially or actually damaging stimuli) and that this is consistent with the existence of a pain experience.

Scientists have known for quite some time that insects can feel pain because they have nociception but this new research shows that the way this may be experienced may be very similar to how mammals, and indeed humans, experience it. Mammals can control nociception from the brain which is believed to be an indicator of having a subjective experience of pain. This “descending control of nociception” from the brain to neurons in the body enables animals to adjust their behaviour in different contexts to prioritise survival. Now, a similar mechanism has been found in insects.

Matilda Gibbons said to Newsweek, “One hallmark of human pain perception is that it can be modulated by nerve signals from the brain… Soldiers are sometimes oblivious to serious injuries in the battlefield since the body’s own opiates suppress the nociceptive signal. You can also consciously ‘grit your teeth’ and bear the pain, in case such ‘heroic’ behaviour earns you a reward or prestige…We thus asked if the insect brain contains the nerve mechanisms that would make the experience of a pain-like perception plausible, rather than just basic nociception… The function of this dampening in nociception in humans is to reduce our pain in situations where feeling pain is unhelpful…Thus if insects also have this capacity, it is conceivable that insects have evolved a similar pathway to deal with feelings of pain.”

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.