Dried yellow mealworms have become the first edible insect to get the go-ahead for marketing authorisation in the EU after receiving the approval of member states in a landmark decision.
The first EU wide approval of insects for human consumption was granted on Monday (3 May) by the standing committee on Plant, Animals, Food and Feed (scoPAFF) that brings together representatives of member states and chaired by a Commission representative.
The decision came after a positive risk assessment of yellow mealworm – which refers to the larvae of the beetle Tenebrio molitor – that the EU food safety agency (EFSA) gave in January.
This scientific assessment of yellow mealworm either as a whole dried insect or in the form of powder was required after the application submitted by the French company EAP Group Agronutris back in 2018.
The EFSA opinion concluded that the insect was safe under the proposed conditions of use, but highlighted some allergenic concerns, specifically among those with a known allergy to crustaceans and dust mites.
As such, the EFSA panel has recommended that “research is undertaken on the allergenicity to yellow mealworm”.
After the green light from member states, the EU executive is now expected to draft and adopt legislation in the coming weeks authorising the introduction of the insect onto the market as a novel food.
Novel food is defined as food that was not consumed to any significant degree in the EU before 15 May 1997, when the first novel food legislation entered into force.
This food category refers either to newly synthesised compounds derived from new sources or produced using new technologies, or food traditionally eaten outside of the EU.
An updated EU novel food regulation came into force in January 2018 in a bid to make it easier and quicker for food businesses to bring new and innovative foods to the EU market while maintaining high levels of food safety.
Since then, EFSA has received 15 insect-related novel food applications, of which 11 have entered the safety evaluation process and the remaining four are under suitability check.
A recent ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) stated that whole insects must be considered as novel foods under the 2018 novel food regulation, requiring formal approval as such.
While insect-based foods have so far been a niche product, they are viewed as a promising solution to the sustainability challenges facing the food industry, offering a sustainable source of protein that can be grown on minimal resources.
According to the European Commission, this use of insects as an alternate source of protein is not new and insects are regularly eaten in many parts of the world.
“It is up to consumers to decide whether they want to eat insects or not,” says a note on the webpage of the EU executive.
The Commission’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F) will support the creation of “sustainable and novel feed materials and food,” listing insects as one such potential innovation.
Under the EU’s funding programme for innovation Horizon Europe, insect-based proteins are considered one of the key areas of research.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]