The EU authorises the marketing of insects as food for humans

This food revolution has been on the horizon for several years, and on Tuesday 4 May the European Union took an important step.

The EU has just authorised insect-based food for humans
© Getty Images
The EU has just authorised insect-based food for humans

On Tuesday, the EU-27 authorised for the first time the marketing of insects as food for humans. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had concluded in mid-January that the larvae of the milling beetle, also known as mealworms, were safe to eat 'either as a whole dried insect or as a powder.'

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The common mealworm

Following this regulatory green light, 'Member States have approved a proposal from the European Commission, allowing the use of dried yellow mealworms as a novel food,' the EU executive announced on Tuesday.

It can be used as a whole dried insect snack or as an ingredient in a number of food products, as a powder in protein products, biscuits or pasta products.

Insect products (very rich in protein, minerals, vitamins, fibre, but also healthy fatty acids, omega 6 and 3) can help prevent nutrition deficiencies, according to companies in the sector. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), describes them as a 'healthy and highly nutritious food source.'

Greener than meat?

They can be 'an alternative source of protein to support the transition to a more sustainable food system,' as insect farming has a limited ecological footprint compared to other protein sources, the Commission explains.

Insects had already been marketed in the EU, including in organic grocery shops, because some countries felt they were not covered by the previous EU regulation on 'novel foods'. This meant they would would not require oversight. But the current regulation, applied since January 2018, explicitly considers insects as food, which requires such an authorisation.

About a thousand species are consumed in Africa, Asia and Latin America by millions of people. But in the EU, insect farms (a few thousand tonnes produced per year) are mainly used to feed farmed animals, especially fish.

The European authorisation will be formalised 'in the coming weeks'

A further eleven marketing applications for insects have been submitted to the EU. The EFSA, based in Parma (Italy), is looking at crickets and grasshoppers in particular.

Ynsect, a producer of insect meal for animal feed, had already developed 'an ingredient based on de-oiled insect proteins' to make 'energy bars' for sportsmen,' but was waiting for a European green light.

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