EU Approves Mealworms as Safe to Eat

(Noted News) — In a major milestone for the insect-based food industry, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has signed off on mealworms as being an acceptable form of cuisine.

Mealworms are the larval form of mealworm beetles, and they have already been part of some Southeast Asian countries’ street food culture. Usually they are dehydrated, then doused in olive oil and finished with salt or seasoning. They apparently taste like peanuts.

The recent approval by the EFSA could bring mealworms from an Asian street food obscurity to a European staple for smoothies, burgers, snackbars, and any other food that can utilize mealworms’ high fiber and protein. 

Mealworms are also lauded for their sustainability and economic efficiency. They are much cheaper to produce than beef or traditional meat and are supposed to emit zero Co2.

In the US currently, mealworms serve as chicken food, fish food, and reptile food. Some chicken farmers like to feed mealworms as a protein supplement for their hens. Farmers can fill up an old fish tank with wheat bran, drop a few hundred mealworms inside and wait for them to reproduce before pouring all the substrate through a sieve to filter out the mealworms. Then they can be fed to chickens. Presumably, farming the mealworms for human consumption will be a more hygienic version of this.

Ermolaos Ververis, scientific officer at the EFSA told The Guardian

“This first EFSA risk assessment of an insect as novel food can pave the way for the first EU-wide approval. Our risk evaluation is a decisive and necessary step in the regulation of novel foods by supporting policymakers in the EU in making science-based decisions and ensuring the safety of consumers.”

Companies like Micronutris, Protifarm from the Netheralnds, Essento from Switzerland, and Entogourmet from Spain are ramping up their operations in preparation for anticipated new demand, according to The Guardian.

Antoine Hubert, CEO of insect-based food start up Ÿnsect, considers the new legislation a huge breakthrough and achievement.

“We need to celebrate this breakthrough. It is a major achievement that rewards the work that has been done for years by the entire European insect industry gathered under IPIFF (International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed) umbrella. It demonstrates, if proof was needed, the excellence of the European and French insect industry and its global leadership.”

Mario Mazzochi, an economics professor at the University of Bologna, reiterated to The Guardian that insects provide a much more efficient way to consume protein than traditional animals.

“There are clear environmental and economic benefits if you substitute traditional sources of animal proteins with those that require less feed, produce less waste and result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Lower costs and prices could enhance food security and new demand will open economic opportunities too, but these could also affect existing sectors.”

The insect-based food industry has long relied not only on legislation deeming it safe, but a mental acceptance by people who are turned off to the idea of eating bugs. Giovani Sogari, consumer researcher at University of Parma, said “With time and exposure, such attitudes can change.” 

Proponents of bug-eating often like to bring up that whether we are aware of it or not, we actually inadvertently eat bugs all the time. The FDA allows for a certain amount of bugs in all our food, given that it is near impossible for agricultural systems to get rid of all the bugs that infest things like rice, grains, all types of produce, pasta, chocolate, and other products.

Not only bugs, but rodent hair as well. The FDA allows 30 or more insect parts and some rodent hair in every chocolate bar produced, nearly two maggots per 16 oz can of tomato sauce, and 450 insect parts and 9 rodent hairs per 16 oz box of pasta. 

A UN report from 2013 recorded at least 2 billion people in the world that eat bugs every single day. There are least 2,100 different species of insects in the world that are deemed to be edible, some more prized than others.

Insects can be grown in much smaller areas, including space efficient, vertical boxes. They use much less water and can be fertilized with fecal matter. All these things combine for what advocates deem the most carbon efficient way to produce food and fight climate change at the same time. 

We may have to mentally prepare for a world where giant skyscraper insect farms produce millions of pounds of cheap, carbon neutral food for the masses.

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