Europe looks to encourage insect consumption

18 Jan 2021

Mealworm burgers may soon be on the menu as the European Food Safety Authority recently approved yellow mealworms as safe for human consumption. This determination is expected to lead to EU-wide approval of the insect as fit for sale across the continent, but the European Commission will first need to add its endorsement.

Mealworms are likely to be just the first species to earn a seal of approval from European regulatory bodies. Fifteen other insect species, including locusts, crickets and grasshoppers are subject to a safety assessment by the food safety authority. Should the insect industry gain government endorsement for its protein products, the final step to mass commercialization will similarly be a final authorization from Brussels for the sale of insects as a "novel food."

Europe looks to encourage insect consumption
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Although insects are considered to be a novel food, they are already big business. The global edible insect market was $650 million in 2020 and is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 19.7% to reach $1.43 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research. Investment in the space is also ramping up. Forbes reported that global investment in firms producing insects for human consumption rose from $31 million in 2016 to $1.3 billion in 2020.

While EU-wide approval for the consumption of mealworms is novel, insects have already been sold in supermarkets in Britain, Belgium, Finland and the Netherlands for years. These countries diverged from their European peers in their interpretation of a 1997 law that stated any food not eaten prior to that year should be authorized as “novel foods.” However, these countries determined that this definition was not applicable to animals used for food.

In countries including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, the approval of mealworms for human consumption will herald in a new era where these products are no longer banned from supermarket shelves.

Despite some countries’ more stringent restrictions on eating bugs, several of the largest insect startups reside in these geographies. Ÿnsect is a French mealworm company that has raised more funding than the rest of the global insect protein sector combined, according to Forbes. Smaller companies include Insnack in Berlin, Jimini’s and Agronutris in France, Essento in Switzerland and Entogourmet in Spain.

This interest in edible bugs is in line with the UN’s larger push to encourage the consumption of insects. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, "eating insects can help tackle food insecurity." Part of the reason is due to the small environmental footprint generated by bugs. But perhaps more importantly, is the fact that insects are nutritious. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, “Gram for gram some insects may have similar energy contents and similar amounts (but not necessarily quality) of protein to meat and fish.”

With one species now declared safe for consumption and many more awaiting approval, it may not be long before insect protein proliferates in everything from baking flour to nutritional bars as people seek to bulk up on sustainable sources of protein in their diets.

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