In 2014, the Belgian food safety agency AFSCA issued official advice on the food safety aspects of insects destined for human consumption, saying “In the search for alternative dietary protein sources, insects appear to offer great potential.”
It approved 10 species of worms and crickets for sale on the Belgian market, basing its tolerance policy off of a loose interpretation of a 1997 EU law on “novel food.”
The law decreed that “food or food ingredients which were not used for human consumption to a significant degree within the European Union prior to 15 May 1997” are to be considered “novel food” and subject to sale with a permit.
But the EU law didn’t strictly specify whole animals, allowing for insects to be authorised for consumption in the Netherlands, UK, Denmark and Finland, and tolerated in Belgium. Other countries, such as France, interpreted the EU law differently and banned them.
The insects now officially approved for human consumption within the EU are mealworms.
Mealworms are larvae of the meal beetle and are rich in fat, fibre and protein. They’ll be available as a snack or as powder that can be used for making biscuits, smoothies or pasta products, the Commission said on Tuesday.
The European agricultural strategy ‘From Farm to Fork’ identifies insects as an alternative source of protein that can help make the food system more sustainable.
In other parts of the world, millions of people eat insects on a daily basis, but a breakthrough on the European market has not happened yet for cultural and regulatory reasons.
Earlier this year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) ruled that consuming the mealworms poses no problem to human health. EFSA did warn, however, that people with certain allergies might be better off not eating the insects.
A French company had applied to the Commission for market authorisation after the country initially banned insect consumption.
The Commission is expected to give its final green light within the next few weeks.