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Insects are safe to eat, says EFSA

Tom Wall14/10/2015 - 13:54

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Roasted insects
Roasted insects

Farmed insects are as safe to eat and produce as other farmed livestock, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has claimed.

A report by the authority, which assesses food risks for the EU, found that insects given approved feed posed no more risk than other mainstream sources of animal protein.

‘When non-processed insects are fed with currently permitted feed materials, the potential occurrence of microbiological hazards is expected to be similar to that associated with other non-processed sources of protein,’ it states.

The authority, which notes that interest is growing in the potential benefits of using insects in food and animal feed, found the wider environmental risks were also comparable to conventional farming.

‘The environmental risk of insect farming is also expected to be comparable to other animal production systems. Existing waste management strategies should be applicable for disposing of waste from insect production,’ it states.

The Food Standards Agency told EHN that there were no insect farms in the UK but some companies were supplying insects for human consumption.

‘We are not aware that insects are currently being farmed in the UK. However, we know that around 13 companies that sell insects for human consumption. Information received in response to our consultation in 2011 suggests these include mealworms, crickets, Chinese yellow scorpions, Giant toasted ants, Black Asian Tarantulas and Locusts,’ said a spokesperson.

The FSA said it was the responsibility these businesses to ensure the insects are safe to eat.

‘The EFSA report and those of competent authorities in the Netherlands, France and Belgian, highlight the risks to be managed by businesses. These are similar to those of other farmed animals with the addition of hard parts of the animal and food allergenicity,’ said the spokesperson.

The European Commission is seeking harmonisation of the novel foods regulations in relation to the sale of edible insects across all member states. Novel foods are subject to additional safety checks.

‘Across the EU, parts or extracts of insects are already subject to novel foods approval however individual member states have had different interpretations as to whether this applies to whole insects. In the UK, whole edible insects are not considered novel,’ said the spokesperson.

If the novel foods legislation is amended this is set to change by 2016.

Eoghan Daly, policy and technical advisor at The Institute of Food Safety Integrity and Protection (TiFSiP), told EHN that insects are in theory safe to eat.

‘There are questions about how farming methods could introduce food safety risks, for example, microbiological contamination. It is likely that appropriate techniques will control risks, but as it is a new sector there may not be established good practice,’ he said.

He added they a viable alternative source of protein.

‘They are high in protein and low in fat. Another advantage is that they can produce protein with much smaller amount of inputs – energy, land area, water, etc, when compared to animal/non-animal sources,’ he said.

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