Following a rigorous scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the endorsement of all 27 EU member states on May 3rd of this year, the European Commission looks set to approve the placing of dried yellow mealworm on the market as a novel food.
The insect, a type of larva from the Tenebrio molitor species, can be consumed as a snack or used as an ingredient in various food products, such as bread or pasta, with the EFSA concluding that the novel food is “safe under the proposed use and use levels”.
Novel food, according to the European Commission, is “defined as food that had not been consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before 15 May 1997, when the first Regulation on novel food came into place”, and concerns foods such as “insects, algae, new plant proteins or traditional food from third countries”.
Crucially, the Novel Food Regulation is underpinned by the necessity to ensure novel food is safe for consumers, is labelled correctly and, if replacing another food, “must not differ in a way that the consumption of the novel food would be nutritionally disadvantageous for the consumer”.
The yellow mealworm’s primary nutritional components are protein, fat and fibre, and while identified as nutritious and safe for human consumption by the EFSA, the Authority points to the possibility of “primary sensitisation and allergic reactions to yellow mealworm proteins”, and further posits that it “may cause allergic reactions in subjects with allergy to crustaceans and dust mites”.
Of course, though insects are not traditionally considered a food product here in Europe, other countries across the world have been consuming insects as part of their diet for millennia. Moreover, the scientific evidence points to the environmental benefits associated with incorporating insects into the food chain. In particular, the move paves the way for less reliance on animal farming and consumption, practices which are increasingly being recognised as detrimental to the environment, and “a leading cause of anthropogenic-induced climate change”.
The application for the use of yellow mealworm in food production began in 2018, and as such has been a relatively lengthy process. According to the European Commission, however, “following the endorsement by the Member States, a Regulation authorising this insect as food will be adopted by the Commission in the coming weeks”.
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