EUROPE – European citizens might soon have yellow mealworms at their plates following an approval by the European Food Safety Authority declaring the insects safe for consumption.

This follows a positive safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) of an application from Agronutris, a French insect-based protein producer.

The approval is a significant regulatory hurdle as the yellow mealworms will become the first insect to be identified as safe for consumption.

Analysts believe that this landmark approval may hasten similar progress for other species and their related product applications.

“This green light from the Parma-based agency is important not only because it is the first novel food opinion on edible insects but also because it will pave the way for other applications that are in the pipeline.”

Constantin Muraru, communication and research manager at the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF)

Even with the approval, the yellow mealworms are still not cleared for human consumption in the European Union.

Ultimately, it will be EU policymakers in Brussels and capitals who determine if insects should be authorized for the European dinner plate.

As of January 2021, over 20 applications have been submitted for the authorization of insects as a novel food.

Several species are covered in these applications, including Acheta domesticus (house cricket), Alphitobius diaperinus (lesser mealworm), Gryllodes sigillatus (banded crickets), Hermetia illucens (black soldier fly), Locusta migratoria (migratory locust), Tenebrio molitor (yellow mealworm) and Apis mellifera male pupae (honey bee drone brood),

According to Muraru, the reason behind having a higher number of applications – in contrast to the number of species – is because each case is focused on particular food applications.

The increased numbers of applications for insects to be considered food come at a time when stake holders in the food industry are looking for sustainable ways of providing enough food for the burgeoning world population.

“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,” stresses Mario Mazzocchi, an economic statistician and professor at the University of Bologna.

“Lower costs and prices could enhance food security and new demand will open economic opportunities too, but these could also affect existing sectors.”

In recent developments, the European ValuSect consortium kickstarted a program to help firms accelerate the development of insect-based foods in Europe.

Under the program, small and medium-sized enterprises were invited to apply for vouchers worth up to €40,000 (US$48,700) in services.

In a nutshell, insects are seen as a viable source of protein and it is predicted that the weakening stigma surrounding edible bugs will lead to the popularized snacks, biscuits, finger foods, pasta and burgers made with the highly nutritious novel food source.

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