Insects authorised for food and feed
The European Commission (EC) will ask Member States to authorise two new insect species for human consumption on 30 November (Comitology). Previously the EC had told Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in a written answer that "the Commission will continue to develop the legal framework for insects".
During the last meeting of the Standing Committee on Plant, Animals, Feed and Food (PAFF), an Implementing Act authorised the sale of Locusta Migratoria, commonly known as grasshoppers, as a novel food. On 30 November, the Commission will present a draft implementing act to authorise Tenebrio Molitor, mealworms, and Acheta Domesticus, house crickets as a novel food.
These authorisations follow an amendment to the “Feed Ban” which allowed the use of processed insects in poultry and pig feed. Although authorisations for feed and food products may differ from a toxicological point of view, in terms of the market for the insect producing industry, both are connected and share similar areas of concern.
The time is now to have a broader political discussion on how to develop an appropriate framework for this growing industry. There is still a significant lack of knowledge surrounding insects and how best to rear them industrially. Taking hasty authorisation decisions today may prove costly further down the line.
Specifically, Eurogroup for Animals suggest considering carefully the following points:
- Industrial insect farming’s ecosystem impacts: Large scale insect farming may have consequences for local ecosystems, threaten food security and biodiversity. In addition to the destruction of crops or forests, high insect concentrations pose a health hazard as they can spread pathogens, can be parasitic and create extra competition for resources for other species.
- The changing climate increases the capacity of invasive alien species to establish: An increased risk of insect-borne pathogens would pose an additional threat to already struggling wild-living insects that are essential for the ecosystem, such as pollinators. Beyond the economic impact, the impact on local ecosystems would compromise both biodiversity and food security. Accidental releases from insect farms can, therefore, lead to inordinate concentrations of a species in a given area or the introduction of invasive alien species into European ecosystems. The economic consequences could be significant, considering that invasive species are the cause of a 14% reduction in global food production.
- Industrial insect farming is energy intensive and has potential high climate and environmental impacts: While insect protein is touted as an alternative feed that requires less land use, this case can only be made if the insects are fed on by-products. In practice, most producers do not rely on food waste to feed their insects. Life Cycle Analyses (LCA) show that insect farming is energy intensive and uses more land than generally assumed. The EU’s goal “to reduce the environmental and climate footprint of the EU food system” by ensuring that the food chain has a neutral or positive environmental impact may be incompatible with the generalisation and intensification of insect farming. In fact, the EFSA notes that the environmental impact of insect farming will be comparable to other forms of animal production.
- Placing industrial insect production into the EU’s broader goals: promoting a sustainable food system instead of boosting factory farming: Insect-derived protein is presented as a solution to diminish the use of imported soy and other feed crops linked to deforestation, as well as replacing the use of fishmeal from depleted oceans. Promoting industrial insect production will, ultimately, sustain intensive animal production models instead of facilitating the transition to a sustainable food system as envisaged by the European Green Deal. A sustainable food system should focus on reducing the amount of animal products and supplying them from systems with higher welfare standards. Animal consumption patterns, therefore, should shift primarily to plant-based diets. Boosting industrial insect production for animal feed will sustain factory farming with its serious animal welfare and environmental concerns. Indeed, the European Commission’s Agricultural Outlook forecasts that the increased supply of insect meal and lower prices could support conventional intensive animal production if the practice is fully commercialised and existing restrictions lifted.