Insects at the table in the EU

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Insects at the table in the EU, here are the current practices in different member states. Risk assessments and approvals for breeding, production and trade




Afterexamining the regulatory context




European and the transitional measures proposed by the Ministry of Health in Italy, an analysis of the rules and/or positions adopted in the meantime by the national administrations of the European Union member countries is provided.

Background, the green light for insects in Europe.

The green light for insects in the food chain in Europe was triggered by Efsa’s opinion, which gave a substantially favorable risk assessment in 2015. (1) Based on this opinion, independent scientific authorities in several member countries focused the risk assessment on individual insect species from the breeding stage to the food processing stage.

Subsequently, some member states decided to allow the production and sale of insects and their parts for human consumption. Thus interpreting the first European Novel Foods Regulation in their own way. And later, already in view of the implementation of the new rules. (2)

Next, brief review on the rules and practices in force in different EU member countries

Bugs on the table in the EU, the most gluttonous countries

Belgium. The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain, FASFC, has indicated in its circular 21.5.2014 a list of insects that can be marketed for human consumption in the country.

The list includes only whole insects (e.g., house cricket, giant meal worm, buffalo worm, silkworm) and is based on the safety assessment of their consumption, carried out by the National Scientific Committee.

However, authorization is not extended to food ingredients isolated from insects (e.g., protein isolates), as in FASFC’s view they must follow EU Novel Food rules.

Food business operators who intend to process or even market insects must still obtain prior approval from the FASCF.

Holland. The Netherlands is considered for all intents and purposes an outpost of tolerance, even on the front of marketing insects as food. Thanks to the landmark study coordinated by Wageningen University together with FAO and others, the Netherlands produced its own risk assessment on insects – later transposed by the NVWA (risk assessment body of the Netherlands) and boasts the operation of several start-ups in the marketing of such products, well before Efsa’s opinion. (3) The Netherlands for all intents and purposes along with Belgium certainly represents a country to start from in observing models of insect-based business.

United Kingdom. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has approved the marketing of some edible species (e.g., Chinese yellow scorpion, meal worm, house cricket, locust) on national soil. Based on scientific documentation to prove its safety, submitted by the operators concerned.

The FSA believes that all animals-including insects-are excluded from the scope of the Novel Food regulation. Conversely, insect parts, as well as products derived from them, should come under the aforementioned regulations. Unless a history of safe use and meaningful consumption prior to 15.5.1997 is demonstrated.

Denmark. The Copenhagen government was the first to subsidize companies that make edible insects, and there are in fact numerous start-ups in the industry. However, there is a lack of a framework in positive law that explicitly authorizes its use, although it is not only tolerated but even, indeed, promoted.

Austria. In line with the literal interpretation of the definition of food-under Reg. EC 178/2002, Article 2-even insects as such fall under it, according to Austrian authorities. Insect parts, or products derived from them, on the other hand, must come under the discipline introduced by Reg. EU 2283/2015.

Finland. The Finnish Food Safety Authority, EVIRA, acknowledges that some countries have allowed the marketing of insects for food use. Helsinki is home to a number of innovative companies working in the field and yet considers insects, whole and in parts, as Novel Food. To be subject to European authorization. (4)

Germany. The German Federal Office for Consumer Information of the Minister of Food and Agriculture(Bundeministerium für Ernährung und Landwirstchaft) seems to once again consider whole insects as a food in common use (EC Reg. 178/02, Art. 2). Conversely, their parts or fractions, as well as insects as food ingredients, should be considered within the Novel Food regulation. For imported insects, veterinary border inspection regulations apply with certificates of compliance to be shown. (5)

Countries most resistant to insects

France. In the country famous for escargot, the sale in particular contexts of insects was tolerated for a few years, only to be declared non-existent to authorize them. Thus to date it is not possible to market insects or their parts as food or food ingredients on French soil. (6)

Italy. the Ministry of Health has intervened with at least a couple of circulars over the years, prior to the one mentioned in the introduction.

In 2013 it was clarified that:

– insects should be considered as Novel Food,

– If some operators intend to challenge the nature of Novel Food, they should provide a official certificate from a Competent Authority of another member state, stating that the product has a significant history of safe use prior to May 15, 1997. (7)

In another Note (8), the Ministry of Health deemed to allow in Italy the use of live insects for the feeding of companion animals or otherwise bred for purposes other than food production (e.g., ornamental, fur, zoo, laboratory). (9)

The Ministry also clarified that:

– reared insects may be fed materials other than those prohibited in Annex III of Reg. Commission EC 767/2009 (e.g., feces, urine, digestive tract contents, and solid municipal waste, including household waste),

– insects may not be reared from kitchen or restaurant waste or expired food unless the same has undergone other processing, (10)

– insects, as non-ruminant farmed animals other than aquaculture fish, CANNOT be fed with PAPs except fishmeal, or products derived from ruminants including hydrolyzed ad ruminant proteins (except leather and hides).

Regulation (EU) 2017/893 then, moreover, allowed the use of animal protein obtained from insects in the production, import, export, and use of feed for aquaculture. With lifting of the ban on the use of insect feed and introduction of new compliance conditions in reform of reg. EC 999/2001 and reg. EU 142/2011. (11)

Hungary. Insects are considered Novel Food, requiring prior risk assessment before and subsequent express authorization.

Ireland. Insects, either whole or as ingredients, are considered Novel Foods.

Luxembourg. Insects are considered as Novel Food. Over time subsequent clarifications, Luxembourg has demonstrated a zero-tolerance policy toward the sale of insects on its (albeit tiny) territory.

Romania. There are no national risk assessment acts, nor are there any licensed or registered establishments for raising, transporting, processing insects for food use. Local authorities report directly to Efsa and the notion of Novel Food.

Sweden. Although in the absence of express bans, local authorities have on several occasions banned preliminary attempts to market insects for food.

Insects and
Novel Food
, the European Commission




A note from the European Commission




, published a few days ago, confirms that insects fall under the scope of the rules on




Novel foods


. For all intents and purposes and without any longer distinguishing between whole animals and their parts or products derived from them.

Are insects covered by the new novel food regulation?

Yes, in the EU, insects fall under the definition of novel food as food ingredients isolated from animals. Insect parts (such as legs, wings, heads, etc.), as well as the whole insect, also fall under this definition.’ (European Commission, DG Sante)

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) Cf. Scientific Opinion on a risk profile related to production and consumption of insects as food and feed. EFSA Journal 2015;13(10):4257, 60 pp. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2015.4257. At https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/151008a

(2) See reg. EC 258/97, repealed by reg. EU 2015/2283 effective 1.1.18

(3) Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, Ministry of Economic Affairs, ‘Advisory Report on the risks associated with the consumption of mass-reared insects’, 15.10.2014

(4) See www.evira.fi/portal/en/food/manufacture+and+sales/novel+foods/insects+as+food/

(5) See dir. 97/78/EC for dead insects, dir. 92/65/EEC for live insects.



(6) V. ANSES, Avis de l’Anses relatif à “




la valorisation des insectes dans l’alimentation et l’état des lieux des connaissances scientifiques sur les risques sanitaires en lien avec la consommation des insectes”




, 12.2.2015, at https://www.anses.fr/fr/system/files/BIORISK2014sa0153.pdf

(7) Ministry of Health Circular 29.10.13 no. 004430, ‘Official controls regarding the use of insects in food with specific reference to the applicability of Reg. (EC) 258/97 on “Novel Food”‘,

(8) Circular Min. Sal. 5.5.2017 No.1139912, ‘Breeding and use of insects for feed production

(9) The so-called ‘FeedBan‘, which pertains to the banning of the use in feed of Processed Animal Protein (PAT) with some exceptions. Reg. EC 999/2001, for the purpose of preventing the transmission of BSE, had banned the use of animal protein for feed purposes. Reg. EU 56/2013, on the other hand, then allowed the use of fishmeal for non-ruminant farmed animals and PAPs of non-ruminant animals for aquaculture).

Under Regulation (EU) 68/2013, insect PATs-as still defined by reg. EU 142/2011, All. I item 5, can only be obtained from non-pathogenic terrestrial invertebrates as defined in Annex X (Chapter II Section I) of the same regulation

(10) Except those referred to in reg EU 142/2011, Annex X, Chapter II, Part III, Sec. 10

(11) Equally, there is an update of Annex XV of EU Regulation 142/2011, about imports of PAT from insects. Member States must adapt their legislation for this purpose with regard to storage, lists of production establishments and other arrangements for compliance monitoring