Eat the Bugs: EU Approves Mealworms For Human Consumption to Save the Environment

yellow mealworm
Wikimedia Commons

Yellow mealworms, which may be enjoyed as a crunchy meal or in ground up as a protien powder has been cleared for human consumption by the European Union, one of a series of insects being considered for human food by the bloc.

The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) revealed the decision that the dried larva of the insect spcies Tenebrio molitor was safe for humans to eat in their journal on Wednesday, noting only that people with allergies to dust mites and crustaceans might experience a reaction to the new food. By the EFSA’s own reckoning, it is the first time bugs have been approved as a food in the European Union.

EFSA expert panel on nutrition member Dr Helle Knutsen was quoted by the body as saying among the investigations needed into new foods were “nutrition, toxicology, chemistry and microbiology to name a few.” The Guardian reported the remarks of EFSA scientific officer Ermolaos Ververis who said of the decision: “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.”

The EFSA classifies foods on whether they were widely consumed in Europe before 1997 or not. As a so-called novel food, bugs need to be tested and certified by the European Union before they are legal to produce and sell in the Union.

The idea of eating bugs as a meat substitute is one that has enjoyed a great deal of media attention in recent years, as the concept is pushed as an alternative to meat consumption by climate change campaigners agitating against traditional food. Indeed, mealworms are just one of the insects presently being considered by European regulators including locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers, all of which are expected to be authorised in time.

Indeed, so keen on promoting bug eating is the Swedish government that it has spent tens of millions of pounds on promoting bugs as food, all in aid they say of creating a greener and “climate smart” future. As Breitbart London reported in 2016, the Swedish government was handing out research grants to companies creating prototype foods out of bugs including cricket mincemeat, mealworm “food prototypes”, and “climate friendly” products.

There is one problem for climate change campaigners trying to persuade Europeans to drop beef steak for bug mince, however, the so-called “yuck factor”, which EFSA contributor and university academic Giovanni Sogari puts down to “social and cultural” norms. He is not worried this will stand in the way of bugs transforming the diets of ordinary people, however, as he notes that: “With time and exposure such attitudes can change.”

Promoting the bugs as food for the environemntal line, an economist cited by the EFSA noted on the race to replace meat with bug-meal: “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.”

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