Novel food and new technologies: are we ready for insect proteins in Europe?

Novel food and new technologies: are we ready for insect proteins in Europe?

Last month, the EU’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed took a step towards authorizing Locusta migratoria (migratory locusts) as a so-called Novel Food, just the second time it has issued a positive opinion on an insect for human consumption.
Although insects are consumed daily by humans in many parts of the world, in Europe, insects as human food must be authorized via the special ‘Novel Foods’ regulatory pathway, which assesses foodstuffs that have not been consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before May 1997. Hot on the heels of the latest positive opinion, there are already nine more applications for insect-based human food in the pipeline with more news expected before the end of the year. So why the buzz about insects as food in Europe?
As human populations increase, the question of how to sustainably feed the world has been climbing up government agendas. One of the key sustainability problems posed by modern agricultural practices is how to balance our need for protein with the impact intensive livestock farming can have on the environment. Scurry forward: insects.
Intensive farming of insects does not pose the same environmental challenges as intensive farming of other livestock species. For example, producing a gram of edible beef protein takes approximately 8-14 times as much land, 5 times as much water, and up to 13 times more CO2 emissions compared to an edible gram of insect protein (The environmental sustainability of insects as food and feed. A review”, van Huis et al., Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 37, Article number 43 (2017)). The EU is therefore understandably keen to approve novel foods that are in line with its environmental objectives.
With positive regulatory opinions expected to come thick and fast, companies are innovating at speed to keep pace with the fast-growing market. Patent filings classified as related to “rearing or breeding invertebrates” (A01K 67/003) have increased precipitously in the last 5 years and there’s no sign of the trend slowing. Not only are these innovations related to how to breed and rear edible insect species, but we’re also beginning to see an increase in filings directed to insect-based food ingredients that might have less of a ‘yuck factor’ than chomping on a dried mealworm. 
Trade mark filings related to insect proteins and food products are also on the up – reflecting the wider upward trend in filings related to alternative protein sources and meat replacements.
Although you might not see yourself snacking on a deep-fried locust just yet, with all the creative activity in this area, we’ll likely see more and more insect-derived ingredients appearing in our foods. I think I’m ready to give it a go.

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If you would like to discuss Barbara Durling’s article, or indeed her favourite edible insects, email her here.

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