Grub’s up: Insects could soon be on the menu after EFSA green light

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. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Mealworms are safe for human consumption according to a new opinion by the EU Food Safety Agency (EFSA), paving the way for the first EU-wide approval.

The opinion, which was published Wednesday (13 January), is EFSA’s first risk assessment of an insect food product application and specifically concerns the safety of the dried yellow mealworm as a novel food, either as a whole dried insect or in the form of powder.

It comes after an application was submitted by the French company EAP Group Agronutris back in 2018.

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.

The 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”.

“These risks are indeed well-known to insect producers”, explained the president of the international platform of insects for food and feed (IPIFF), Antoine Hubert, who called the publication of the opinion “an important milestone towards the wider EU commercialisation of edible insects”.

“Scientific publications have already characterised such occurrences and several insect producing companies have developed in-depth evidence to help in mitigating such risks,” he said, calling on EU institutions to develop tailored labelling provisions to inform European consumers appropriately.

Are Europeans ready for an insect-based diet?

While insect-based foods have so far been quite a niche product, they are viewed as a highly promising solution to the challenges facing the food industry. Although new EU regulations should pave the way for these products – European eating habits might have to change too. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Ermolaos Ververis, scientific officer in EFSA’s NUTRI unit, said that this first EFSA risk assessment of an insect as novel food was a “decisive and necessary” step in the regulation of novel foods which would support EU policymakers in making science-based decisions and ensuring the safety of consumers.

“EFSA’s safety assessments of insects and products as novel foods are an important contribution to innovation in this sector,” he added.

The opinion, the latest in a series of EFSA scientific opinions on novel food applications, will serve as the basis for an upcoming decision on approval for marketing.

The Commission must now submit a draft implementing act authorising the placing on the market to the standing committee within seven months.

“We are hoping that these final steps will lead to allowing the marketing of this product by mid-2021”, Christophe Derrien, IPIFF secretary-general, said.

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, and must be either newly synthesised compounds, derived from new sources or produced using new technologies, or food traditionally eaten outside of the EU.

In an effort to facilitate food businesses to more easily and quickly bring new and innovative foods to the EU market, while maintaining high levels of food safety, an updated EU Novel Food regulation came into force in January 2018.

Since then, EFSA has received 15 insect-related Novel Food applications, of which 11 have entered the risk assessment and the remaining 4 are under suitability check.

Insect-based feedstuffs hold 'enormous potential' for EU sustainability goals

With the presentation of the long-awaited Farm to Fork strategy due in the coming days, EURACTIV took a look at the potential that insects hold for contributing to the goals of the strategy and creating a more self-reliant, sustainable food system in the EU.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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