Move to clarify legal status of edible insects

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has set out plans to allow edible insects to remain on the market while they go through the novel foods authorisation process to assess their safety. 

The plans, detailed in a public consultation, represent a “major milestone”, according to sector representatives. 

The proposals would allow edible insects to remain on sale if they were marketed in the EU or the UK before January 1st 2018 and were the subject of an application to the EU for authorisation as a ‘novel food’ by January 1st 2019. Applications for authorisation of these insects must be made to the FSA or Food Standards Scotland by December 31st 2023 for the product to remain on the market while the application is assessed.  

Insect protein producer Ÿnsect told Footprint that the FSA’s proposals should help “untangle” the legal status of edible insects following Brexit and ensure the UK market keeps pace with others.

When the UK left the EU, the transitional measures relating to novel foods, including edible insects, were not amended to require businesses to submit applications to regulators. This left the sector “in limbo” regarding the legal status of edible insects in the UK, said Nick Rousseau from Woven, which represents UK businesses in the edible insect sector. 

“We have been presenting a consistent message to the government, backed up by considerable evidence, that insects are safe to eat and this news shows that they recognise this,” he explained. 

A generalised risk assessment conducted by the FSA and FSS to support the consultation has found that the safety risks associated with edible insect products are low, provided appropriate measures are in place. These include hygiene measures during rearing of the insects to avoid contamination, heat treatment, and labelling on allergy risks. 

Edible insect producer Bug Farm Foods recently started a trial in which children at four Welsh schools will be offered VEXo, a combination of insect and plant protein that can be used in “a similar way to minced meat”.

FSA research shows that consumers in the UK have an increased interest and demand for healthy, sustainable diets, with a focus on meat alternatives. Over a quarter (26%) of UK consumers would be willing to try eating edible insects – and environmental concerns or sustainability are the most common reasons. 

A poll by Ÿnsect earlier this year showed 89% of UK consumers who have tried insects liked them or would eat them again. More than three quarters (76%) want to see insect protein incorporated more widely into products.

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