Edible insect industry buoyant after EFSA declares locusts safe to eat
07 Jul 2021 --- Following approval from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), migratory locusts (Locusta migratoria) are now considered safe for human consumption in both frozen and dried formats. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to key players in the insect sector, who back the move, and who are hopeful for the future of edible insects.
This EFSA opinion results from an application submitted by Fair Insects, a Protix company, back in 2018. Protix also applies novel food dossiers for the black soldier fly and other species.
Elselina Battenberg, a spokesperson for Protix, says insects like migratory locusts are an excellent source of macronutrients.
“They are rich in proteins and fibers, contain vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium and zinc. The proteins are highly digestible. The possible food applications can widely vary from snacks to burgers, meal components or sweets.”
Consumer openness to insect consumption
As dietary habits evolve and Western consumers begin to open up to the idea of insect consumption, novel food authorizations will play a constructive role in shaping the market, according to Christophe Derrien, secretary-general at the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF).
“Edible insects are gaining more and more interest. Consumer acceptance is and would be driven by a change in sociocultural aspects and product demand.”
Insects are versatile ingredients, and the demand for high protein food for sports nutrition, dietetic food or complementary sources of protein creates further opportunities for the sector, reveals Derrien.
Guillaume Daoulas, new business director at Ÿnsect, also agrees that consumer awareness of the planet’s health is growing.
“Consumers are caring more about their impact on the planet, and food represents an important part of this. According to the International Food Information Council, most people are concerned about climate change, and these concerns affect their food and beverage purchases.”
Given the high purchase intent among athletes, applications in sports nutrition are likely to be the most embraced by consumers, for example, in protein bars and shakes, he notes.
“We also expect it to work well as a supplement, allowing consumers to add it to existing recipes for elevated health benefits, e.g., to add to smoothies, in pasta, and so on.”
Further commenting on what is driving this demand, Daoulas says it is happening organically among consumers as they look increasingly for sustainable, healthy food options.
“Surveys showed that sportspeople are looking for more ‘natural’ alternative FISP (food intended for sportspeople) as most of those performant ingredients are highly transformed products, easier from animal or vegetal sources.”
From niche to mainstream?
Currently, in such specialized products, the edible insect market can be seen as a niche market, but it is forecasted to develop rapidly in the next few years, says Derrien.
IPIFF believes that the development of the market in Europe would be driven by accessibility, consumer acceptance and regulatory advancements.
“The latest opinion on the frozen and dried migratory locust marks another important achievement for the edible insect sector,” Derrien notes.
“Both this opinion and the first insect Novel Food authorization (concerning dried yellow mealworm), which entered into force last month, show the efforts done by the European insect sector to improve sustainability in the agri-food chain safely.”
In parallel, the sector is also expecting the authorization of insect-processed animal proteins (PAPs) in poultry and pig feed during the upcoming months.
EU-wide Novel Food authorizations and the authorization of insect PAPs in poultry and pig feed represent two of the main policy priorities of IPIFF. The subjects are aligned with the EU’s “Farm to Fork” strategy, the flagship EU initiative to transition toward more sustainable food systems.
Several edible insect applications have been submitted to EFSA for (safety) assessment, including for several species of crickets, mealworms (including yellow mealworm and dried yellow mealworm), or black soldier fly and their related formulations.
“We hope that the recent authorization from the EU Commission will ‘smoothen the path for other edible insect species,’ helping as well to make insect products more accessible to the European markets and boosting consumers’ acceptance,” explains Derrien.
Major step forward
According to Daoulas, getting the provisional green light from EFSA is “a major step forward” for the sustainable food systems as it should pave the way for future approvals of sustainable food alternatives.
“This includes other whole insects, as well as defatted insect protein, which represents the largest human food market segment in terms of value and volumes, especially in sports and health nutrition,” he explains.
“We are hoping to soon receive a favorable judgment on the defatted Molitor Mealworm ingredient and the Buffalo mealworm for human consumption, an insect that is currently bred by our subsidiary Protifarm in the Netherlands and already used there in human food,” continues Daoulas.
“The more approvals we get of insect species as an industry, the more we can respond to the pressing world issues of hunger, climate change, environment and ecosystem degradation, and food security.”
Edible insect space heats up
Last month, FoodIngredientsFirst reported that mealworm proteins are growingly recognized as a highly sustainable and quality protein source.
EU member states recently greenlighted Agronutris for the marketing of its yellow mealworm (Tenebrio Molitor) products intended for human consumption, making it the first company to be authorized to sell food-grade insects on the European market.
Ÿnsect has submitted a file for the same novel food authorization for its Buffalo mealworm and is awaiting approval.
In February, the IPIFF spoke with FoodIngredientsFirst about the advantages of entomophagy, COVID-19 challenges and how European insect producers have recovered faster than expected.
At the start of the year, yellow mealworms crossed a “significant regulatory hurdle” as Europe’s first insect identified as safe for consumption.
By Elizabeth Green
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