Could EU policy changes boost the development of the European insect farming sector?


12 Nov 2018 --- As interest in alternative proteins and sustainable food production continues to rise, the European umbrella organization representing the interests of the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF) has emphasized the potential of the European insect sector in creating a more competitive and sustainable value chain. IPIFF President Antoine Hubert believes that the current European Regulations and EU funded research programs offer many opportunities for insect producers to develop, but the current regulatory framework must be adapted to ensure that this potential can be fully exploited.

Gathering in Brussels for the IPIFF 2018 Annual Conference, last Tuesday, 200 participants, including European Commission Officials, Member States representatives and other delegates ranging from the insect sector, agri-food industry and scientists, recalled the potential laying in insects for food and feed, while highlighting the importance of EU legislation for the development of the sector. The event also explored different avenues for insect producers to best respond to European consumers and farmers’ demands, notably in the context of the EU Protein Plan.

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, IPIFF Secretariat, Christophe Derrien says that the trend towards healthy food is driving an increasing consumption of insects in western diets, including in Europe. 

“Many producers are ‘surfing’ on new popular eating trends in Europe (e.g., Paleo eating style, flexitarians). These changes in attitude around food create new opportunities for the insect sector,” he says.

“Edible insects also represent a promising source for food manufacturers, who intend to enrich their products with protein content, notably targeting specific categories of consumers/markets (e.g., sports nutrition food supplements, dietetic food). Although these currently constitute some ‘niche markets,’ these markets are forecast to increase in the next few years,” he notes. 

“Besides, we see an increasing demand for hybrid meat products or for functional food (for which insects may represent a promising solution in the future) which, to some extent, also contribute to the growth of the sector in Europe.”

Insects can be used in a range of ways in response to particular demands from the food industry and consumers: e.g., they can be consumed as whole insects or processed into a granular powder, all the way to extracted products.

He adds: “Yet, one should be clear that insects are not expected to replace meat in our diets entirely, considering varied eating styles and diets across Europe, which, therefore, require a wide variety of products and ingredients.” 

Over the last years, Europe has seen significant growth in the demand for alternative sources of protein. Several factors related to consumer changes in attitude around food in these regions are driving a growing interest and acceptance for alternative sources of proteins including seaweed, microalgae and fermented products in these regions, including health and sustainability concerns about eating meat-based products, growing consideration about animal welfare, curiosity for alternative sources of food or the fledgling market for personalized nutrition, says Derrien. 

“Many companies from the insect sector, notably in Europe, have anticipated these ‘changes in attitude.’ Investors have followed this path and enabled those actors to deploy their production activities at industrial scale. A substantial part of these investments was devoted to R&D activities and the development of modern processing technologies, enabling those actors to develop products that are suited to the particular demands/needs of European consumers for such products,” he comments. 

The entry into effect (on 1st January 2018) of the "new" EU novel food legislation – which defines the standards and authorization procedures for the commercialization of the European Market of novel products, such as insects and their derived products – constituted a significant milestone for the development of the European insect farming sector. 

This legislation should, therefore, pave the way for the broader use of insects as food in Europe (8 applications covering insects products have been submitted to the European Commission since 1st Jan 2018, the first authorizations are expected are expected to take place by the 2nd half of 2019). 

“Besides, the European Commission will soon be reviewing the EU food hygiene legislation in order to spell out/regulate the conditions for producing and importing insects products as food, therefore contributing to close fill the remaining ‘regulatory loopholes’ surrounding the production and marketing of insects as food within the European Union,” Derrien explains. 

The current Food 2030 Policy Horizon 2020 policy, which calls for projects on alternative sources of proteins, or future (Horizon Europe) EU research and innovation policies/EU funding programs cover calls for projects aiming at encouraging consumers to shift to more nutritious and safe diets. These should constitute promising opportunities for insects producers to develop activities and products that are tailored to new consumers’ demands. 

Finally, in the wake of the EU Protein Plan (publication expected by the end of the year), IPIFF is calling upon the European Commission to investigate the possibilities of launching educational campaigns highlighting the benefits of consuming a variety of protein sources produced in the EU, while fostering consumers’ acceptance of alternatives sources of proteins in Europe. 

Notably, Yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor), Buffalo worm (Alphitobius diaperinus), House cricket (Acheta domesticus), Banded cricket (Gryllodes sigillatus) and Migratory locust (Locusta migratoria) have demonstrated high potential for human consumption, according to Derrien. “This probably explains why these species form the subject of the novel food applications which have been submitted to the European Commission since 1st January 2018,” he adds. 

“Yet, this does not necessarily mean that other species may not present similar or even higher health benefits, making them most suitable for human consumption. However, scientific knowledge on those species is too limited and further research, demonstrating their potential for human consumption is necessary.”

Introducing the event, IPIFF President Antoine Hubert said: “Insect producers can make a significant contribution to competitive value chains. However, the current regulatory framework must be adapted to ensure that this potential can be fully exploited.”

Bruno Gautrais, Head of Unit at the European Commission, shared the IPIFF President’s views: “EU policies and legislation must continue to evolve for the sector to further grow and innovate. However, these changes will not happen in one day, as we need to build up solid rules, guaranteeing a high level of safety for the use of insects in food and feed applications. Furthermore, a step-by-step approach is key to building credibility and trust in the sector.”

The event also shed light on several projects undertaken by IPIFF in the areas of food and feed safety: notably, the association is developing a guidance paper documenting best hygienic practices in insect production and has recently published guidelines to support insect producers in the preparation of novel food applications.

“We trust that these works are useful for insect producers to conform with applicable legislation: our Guide on good hygiene practices should be published during the first quarter of 2019, while we expect the first novel food dossiers for insects as food to be authorized during the 2nd half 2019,” noted IPIFF President Hubert. 

This event ended with a Roundtable discussion gathering producers of other “new” sources of protein such as algae and yeast. 

Speaking on behalf of the insect sector, the Vice President of the IPIFF Association, Adriana Casillas stated: “Insects should be envisaged alongside other ‘new’ sources of protein to close the feed gap. We must also acknowledge that animals have different nutritional requirements, for which different protein sources are needed. In this context, insects can contribute to improving the nutrient balance and quality in animal feed, in addition to other ingredients.”

Looking ahead, Casillas concluded: “Further research, investment and legislative evolutions are needed to increase our sector’s capacities. More importantly, we must pursue our efforts towards building a responsible industry to maximize its contribution towards more competitive and sustainable food and feed value chains.”

In May this year, the IPIFF published a package of guideline documents aiming to assist insect producers in preparing novel food applications. Under the new EU novel food legislation (i.e., Regulation 2015/2283), insects intended for human consumption in Europe must indeed be authorized by the EU institutions, by an application dossier prepared by the producers. 

At the time, Chair of the IPIFF Novel Food Task Force, Lars Henrick Lau-Heckmann said: “We trust that the scientific report contained in this package can complement the specific recommendations of the recently published EFSA Guidance document (10 November 2016) that apply to insect-based products intended for human consumption. On the other hand, the above mentioned legal briefing paper outlines today’s possibilities for commercializing insect-based products in the different countries of the European Union, under the transitional measure is foreseen in the new legislation.” 

In January this year, Chair of the IPIFF Novel Food Task Force, Heidi de Bruin, explained how insect producers now have all legislative pieces to prepare and complete their novel food application.

“Several applications, notably originating from IPIFF members companies, are now ready for submission,” she said.

“We are confident that robust and well-documented applications will be processed rapidly enough, as permitted by the introduction of deadlines in the new novel food authorization procedure.”

The IPIFF novel food Task Force supports insect producers in the preparation of such application dossiers.

By Elizabeth Green

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