Surging interest in edible insects prompts safety review

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Although a delicacy in some parts of Europe -  maggot cheese is eaten in Sardinia for instance - the EC considers insects to be a novel food
Although a delicacy in some parts of Europe - maggot cheese is eaten in Sardinia for instance - the EC considers insects to be a novel food

Related tags: Edible insects, Food, Insect, Efsa, Europe

A pan-European list outlining the pros and cons of different insect species, their nutritional content and environmental impact is needed says ANSES.

ANSES reviewed current scientific opinion on the safety of insects in both human food and animal feed, concluding that key data is still unknown.

"This work has highlighted the lack of available scientific data on issues such as the environmental impact of the production of insects compared with other protein sources (particularly regarding the carbon footprint and energy impact), and the nutritional value of different species of insects and insect products," ​said the review in French​. 

An official English translation will be published on the website ​soon.

The review outlined a need for a ‘Community level​’ list which detailed the pros and cons of various insect species intended for consumption and comes ahead of an EFSA opinion expected in July this year. EFSA's scientific committee is currently reviewing​ the microbiological, chemical and environmental risks associated with eating insects following a request from the European Commission.

ANSES also called for scientifically-based guidelines for breeding and production conditions as well as further research into animal welfare – an issue it said had not yet been adequately explored for insects.

It called for a stepping up of research efforts into potential hazards and how to avoid them. Hazards could include chemicals used during the farming process such as pesticides or veterinary drugs; physical parts of the insects such as stings or parasites and bacteria that the insects may be harbouring.

Common allergies - especially to mites, crustaceans and molluscs - could pose a risk to consumers and those working on the insect farms, and so specific preventative allergy measures were required, the review said. Pending the establishment of these measures it urged consumers with a predisposition to certain allergens to be cautious.

It also noted that food products made with insects were subject to the same preservation issues as other foodstuffs.

Eating insects in Europe: a mixed bag

The French food safety authority said it had been prompted to conduct the review following a surge of European interest in eating insects in recent years.

Insects for human consumption are considered to be a novel food in Europe because they were not habitually consumed prior to 1997. This means they are required to undergo a thorough risk assessment before they can be commercialised.

However, authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands have taken advantage of national legislation that allows novel foods to be marketed without EC approval. Last year Luxembourg’s Ministry of Health decided to err on the side of caution, prohibiting the sale of edible insects​ before they get the green light on a pan-EU level.

The UN’s FAO has come out in favour of developing large-scale insect production to meet the world’s protein requirements by 2030. It said that insects already make up part of the diet of around two billion people worldwide.

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