Entomophagy is a new phenomenon in the West, and as a result, rarely regulated. Public institutions such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), customs and health agencies that oversee the health of people often find themselves helpless in the face of new products based on processed insects.
From a geographical point of view, there are three legal trends: the Anglo-Saxon countries, where the FDA opinion was enough to allow marketing, non-English-speaking Western countries (the European Union, in particular) which has felt the need to have rules and provide approvals before allowing any marketing, and non-Western countries, where insects are often a traditional food, but rarely packaged and exported or imported. In these countries, customs and the FDA had never found themselves facing a packaged product containing insects (as insects were usually found in the local market, unpackaged) and in the absence of regulations have sometimes inconsistent reactions.
In the following paragraphs are the cases of Western countries, and some Asian events. Matters that may be subject to rules are breeding, production, marketing, and import/export. There are cases where the marketing of edible insects is legal, but the import or export is not (for example, Belgium does not accept insects from non-EU countries).
In addition is the legislation on food, which is often lacking industry standards. In particular, insects are not included in the Codex Alimentarius, which contains an international guideline for food safety. Additions to the Codex shall be decided by the states’ members of the FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) during their next quadrennial meeting. During its 17th meeting, the delegation of Laos has proposed the creation of a working group on crickets as food, but it has not been written, despite the support of other countries in the South East Asia and the creation of a document on this topic.
Customs offices also often have difficulty in finding reference points. Harmonized System Codes (HS) decided internationally by the World Custom Organization for the nomenclature of goods do not contain any definition that refers to insects as food. The creation of new codes can be requested by a member state.
Crickets were not considered Novel Food, and today the largest breeder in North America is located in Canada and serves some local start-ups, such as One Hop Kitchen. If, however, an insect lacks a history of safe consumption, it might fall back into the Novel Food category and request an evaluation by the Bureau of Microbial Hazards in the Food Directorate.
There are no specific set of standards for edible insects. The FDA has made public its opinion, which is the current legal basis for the market. To be allowed, insects must have been bred for human consumption. Products containing insects must of course follow the standards required by the FDA including bacteriological tests and GMP certification (Good Manufacturing Practice). The label on the product must include the common name and the insect’s scientific name, and note the potential risks of allergy.
Australia and New Zealand
The two nations share an agency for the maintenance of food safety, called the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). This agency has addressed some cases like the super mealworm (Zophobas Morio), the domestic cricket (Acheta domesticus), and the moth (Tenebrio Molitor) deciding that – although they cannot be considered traditional food – they are not a Novel Food. In particular, they have not encountered food safety problems and consequently have not been put to the consumption limits or import.
According to the European Parliament and the Food Safety Agency (EFSA), insects fall into the category of “Novel Foods” and consequently are subject to a lengthy approval process. Four countries did not accept this interpretation and explicitly permit (and in one case, regulated) the marketing and consumption of insects. These are Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Denmark. In some other countries there is a certain degree of tolerance (France, for example). In others, such as Italy and Germany, the tolerance is zero. Because of the complexity (and cost) of the procedure, no start-up, as of January 2017, has submitted an application to approve an edible insect following the Novel Food regulations.
In a meeting in October 2015, the European Parliament discussed the edible insects, in connection with the revision of the Novel Food law, in order to simplify the steps and reduce the timing (sometimes three years) for approval. The new law will come into effect on January 1, 2018. The details on how to submit a dossier were released in September 2016.
EFSA has stated that with the new law, a dossier to approve crickets as food can be presented in two different ways. The standard way (which is supposed to take about a year for the entire procedure), or one defined as “Traditional Food from a Third country” (Article 14, law EU in 2283), which is expected to be faster (about six months). However, in this second case one of the member countries can make an opposition, therefore lengthening the time.
The procedure provides that an individual applies for approval (can be a single citizen, a company, an institution, both EU and non-EU). If presented with two applications for the same food, and one is accepted first, the approval is universal. In other words, once the food – for example, the cricket – is approved, it is for everyone and all the producers or importers benefit.
The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) has produced a specific regulation for edible insects (which makes Belgium one of the most advanced nations in terms of entomophagy). The FASFC approved ten insects: two types of cricket (Acheta domesticus and Gryllodes Sigillatus), two types of locust, three variants of moths (mealworm), two types of moths (greater wax moth, lesser wax moth) and silkworms. They have specifically detailed rules for breeding and sale, and no insects bred outside of the European Union is accepted.
The Netherlands is home to some mealworm and cricket farms for human consumption, including the leader Protifarm (and its subsidiary Kreca), as well as some start-ups active in the marketing and production of edible insects. Its legal basis is not clear, and the public body responsible for food safety (NVWA) has refused to comment.
The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA) believes that the whole insects (including flour, if coming from whole insects) does not fall under the EU Novel Food legislation. As a result, imports from non-EU countries is theoretically possible.
The control of food in Germany is a task of the 16 federal states. The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL), fulfil only some coordination functions. Therefore, the BVL position is not legally binding and it is aligned with the EU commission decision: insects or parts of insects are novel food and cannot be sold in Germany until a procedure for Novel Food approval has been finalized.
Norway is not an EU member, but belongs to the European Economic Area (EEA) and therefore follows a number of European regulations. Still, their interpretation of edible insects is that when they are whole (as opposed to parts/isolates of insects), they do not fall under the Novel Food law. Preparations from whole insects (processed food) follows the same principle, accordin to the food agency, www.mattilsynet.no.
The Food Safety Agency (FSA) gave a favourable opinion to the sale, consumption and import of edible insects. Insects are also possible, for human and for feed consumption for aquaculture (but not as animal feed). Great Britain considers edible insects outside the context of the European regulation on Novel Food.
The future is uncertain, because of Brexit and the possibility that the UK adheres to EU directions to realign themselves on the subject of edible insects from January 2018 (with extension to 2020 for products already on the market). Meanwhile, the FSA sent start-up of edible insects a letter of information request, anticipating that in the coming years a European approval may be required.
The Federal Council has worked extensively on the legislation of insects, based on questions of Isabelle Chevalley, National Councillor of the Canton of Vaud, who since 2013 has asked the council repeatedly to take a position. In December 2016, the Conseil Fédéral finally passed a law (which will take effect May 1, 2017) allowing the sale and consumption of three species: crickets (Acheta domesticus), migratory locust and moth (mealworm). Among the requirements, the insects must have been bred for human consumption and after slaughter must be treated according to the criteria of food security (high temperatures, freezing).
Examples in non-western countries
The countries of Southeast Asia have a food tradition of entomophagy, but do not have regulations relating to breeding, sale and export. Thailand, the world’s largest breeder of crickets, is working on the creation of guidelines for breeding. The ACFS (Thai government agency for the safety of agricultural products) is expected to release the Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) for the breeding of crickets by the end of 2017. A set of preliminary guidelines for GAP was made public by the University of Khon Kaen. Even in China, insects are a common culinary ingredient in many regions, but there are no mentions in food law. An exception is the silkworm (silkworm pupae), which was included in 2014 in the list of foods allowed by the Ministry of Health. China is the world’s largest producer of silk and silkworms are available in very large quantities (they are also exported for food consumption, for example to Thailand). The government of South Korea has launched a process of legalisation of some edible insects in 2011. In the list there are mealworm, crickets (not the usual Acheta Domesticus, but the Gryllus bimaculatus species) and some larvae. Following this preliminary process, in 2016, the KFDA (Korean Food and Drug Administration) has classified crickets and mealworms as normal food, without restrictions. It is expected that other insects will be added soon to the eligibility list.