Insects make their way to EU plates as mealworms deemed safe to eat

The insects moved closer to becoming a staple in the European diet after the EU’s food safety agency deemed the yellow mealworm safe for human consumption.

The European Food Safety Authority said on Wednesday that based on a request from French insect grower Micronutris – Europe’s leading company specializing in insects for human consumption – there were no safety concerns. for the dried yellow mealworm. The creature is the larval form of the mealworm.

However, he warned that the proteins in mealworms could cause reactions in people with allergies to shellfish and mites and that allergens from the larval diet could end up in the products.

Although about 2 billion people in more than 130 countries already eat insects, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, they are not widely eaten in the west.

Insect larvae are already used in Europe and elsewhere for chicken and fish feed, as well as pet food and fertilizers, and regulatory approval could boost investment in dinner feed. Analysts at Barclays, the British bank, have estimated that the emerging market for insect protein around the world could be worth around $ 8 billion by 2030 in terms of sales, compared to less than $ 1 billion today.

Ermolaos Ververis, Scientific Officer of the European Food Safety Authority, said on Wednesday: “This first EFSA risk assessment of an insect as a novel food may pave the way for the first scale approval. of the EU. ”

A worker sorts the mealworms at the French insect start-up Ynsect. EFSA’s announcement will boost investment in the sector, analysts say © Cyril Marcilhacy / Bloomberg

The decision is the first step towards obtaining full product approval. Industry must also apply for labeling and marketing authorizations.

The announcement would boost insect startups such as France Insect, Protix from the Netherlands and AgriProtein from South Africa, and offer incentives for new businesses and investments, analysts say.

Antoine Hubert, founder of Ynsect, said that a clear regulatory regime was important for continued growth in Europe: “This is the key to innovation and development. It’s a competitive advantage [for the region]. ”

In 2017, the European Commission approved the use of insects in fish feed, thus stimulating the development of a new market. The use of insects for human consumption has been largely unregulated in the EU, but in 2018 Brussels put in place a regulatory framework for the sector. Meanwhile, individual restaurants and food companies have offered products to consumers on a limited scale.

As the world’s population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, increasing the need for food production, insects are seen as a potentially good protein source rich in vitamins and minerals. Unlike fish and farm animals, their production puts little pressure on the environment and they are considered a sustainable food source.

“There are clear environmental and economic benefits if you replace traditional sources of animal protein with those that require less food, produce less waste and result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mario Mazzocchi. , professor at the University of Bologna.

The question is whether new products such as insect protein powder in foods such as burgers and sports drinks would be accepted by European consumers. Giovanni Sogari, social researcher and consumer at the University of Parma, said social and cultural experiences make the idea of ​​eating insects repellent for some. However, “with time and exposure, such attitudes can change,” he added.

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