The future of edible insects in the UK

Could the public get a taste for insects? Photo: Jonathan Beckman
Could the public get a taste for insects? Photo: Jonathan Beckman

Edible insects will be permitted to be sold on the market while they go through the UK’s Novel Foods authorisation process to assess their safety.

The plans are detailed in a public consultation released by the Food Standards Agency, which says it wants to bring forward the necessary legal changes as soon as possible depending on the responses received.

There has been uncertainty in the insect sector since the UK left the European Union.

Rebecca Sudworth, FSA policy director, said when the UK left the EU, the transitional measures relating to novel foods including edible insects were not amended to require businesses to submit applications to regulators in Great Britain.

“Edible insect products will need to pass through the full authorisation process in Great Britain… We want anyone with an interest in edible insects, particularly trade organisation and food businesses, to have their voice heard through our consultation.”

The proposals set out would allow insects to remain on sale if they were marketed in the EU or the UK before 1 January 2018 and were subject of an application to the EU for authorisation as a novel food by 1 January 2019. Applications for authorisations of these insects must be made to the FSA or its Scottish equivalent by 31 December 2023 for the product to remain on the market while the application is assessed.

Safety risk: low

A generalised risk assessment conducted by the FSA to support the consultation has found that the safety risks associated with edible insects products are low, provided appropriate measures are in place. These include hygiene measures during the rearing of insects to avoid contamination, heat treatment and labelling on allergy risks.

Interest in meat alternatives

FSA research shows that UK consumers have an increased interest and demand for healthy, sustainable diets, with a focus on meat alternatives. Just over one quarter (26%) would be willing to try eating edible insects – with environmental concerns or sustainability the most common reasons.

Dr Nick Rousseau, UK Edible Insect Association managing director, said the sector had been farming insects and developing new food products for many years and the sector was continuing to grow.

The environmentally concerned consumer

“Research from our members’ extensive trials and user testing show that edible insect products, when professionally farmed and manufactured, offer the environmentally concerned consumer nutritious, tasty and safe food products that can meet a significant proportion of their protein needs.

“The support of the FSA will make a huge difference to our ability to prove ourselves in the market,” he added.

A replacement of chicken or beef?

If the public do get a taste for insects, such as crickets, one firm believes they could eventually replace chicken and beef on supermarket shelves.

Adam Banks from Lincolnshire-based Bugvita/Instar farming, which manufacturers flavoured and powered crickets for human consumption said crickets were a much more efficient way to produce protein than traditional livestock. The powder can be added to bread, energy bars and protein shakes while whole crickets are served as snacks.

“You don’t need a lot of feed to produce a kilo of live weight gain in the crickets. Whether or not edible insects are going to be competing for supermarket shelf space with chicken, I don’t know – I hope so but we are a very long way off that at the moment,” added Banks.

Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist