Following the application of the French insect producer "SAS EAP Group – MICRONUTRIS" ("Applicant"), on May 3rd, 2021, the EU Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed issued a favorable opinion supporting the draft Commission Implementing Regulation aimed at allowing the commercialization throughout the EU of dried yellow mealworms (i.e. Tenebrio molitor).
The Applicant sought authorization to use mealworms in the form of snacks or as ingredients to create derivative food products, maintaining that such insect presents high nutritional values and, therefore, may be considered as an interesting alternative nutritional source for the human kind. The EU approval follows the scientific assessment published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which pointed out that – under the conditions and use levels proposed by the Applicant – the product is safe, even though its consumption may lead to allergic reactions.
Such intervention represents a milestone in the process of regulating novel foods and may boost the insect producing industry, which currently constitutes a very small niche in the EU market, while has a strong presence in many other parts of the world, where insects are regularly eaten. Currently, 11 applications for insects to be recognized as novel foods are pending before the Commission, waiting for the outcomes of the EFSA's safety assessment.
At EU level, novel foods are governed by the EU Regulation
2015/2283 (in force since January 1st, 2018 – "Novel Food
Regulation"), which – under certain limitations – introduced the possibility to commercialize such innovative products. In fact, novel foods can be admitted to the market only upon authorization, issued on the basis of an assessment run by ESFA and aimed at verifying – in light of available scientific evidences – that the novel food does not entail any risks to human health. In addition, such products need to be properly labelled, in order to avoid misleading information for the consumers.
Under the Novel Food Regulation, a novel food is identified as a food that has not been eaten by a significant amount of humans in the EU before May 15th, 1997, when the first Regulation on novel food came into force. Considering that at EU level there is no evidence of a significant insects' consumption by humans in the past, therefore all insects must be considered as novel foods.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), insects as food will constitute a key issue of the twenty-first century due to several factors, such as: the rising cost of animal protein, food insecurity, population growth and increasing demand for protein. In addition, it has been noted that the consumption of insects produces also certain environmental benefits.
The EU Commission in expected to adopt the final version of the Implementing Regulation on dried yellow mealworms by the end of June 2021.