Insects as food

Safety of insects used as food must be verified

Insects offer a potential as a new raw material for foods, but the safety of the various insect species as food must first be verified. Before insects can be placed on the market, they must pass a safety assessment and the sale and marketing of the insects must be authorised by the European Commission. The objective of this is to verify that eating of insects is safe for consumers. So far the safety of no insect species has been assessed in accordance with the requirements of the Novel Food Regulation.

At present, the safety of the use of insects as food is a hot topic in the EU. Points that have been brought up include e.g. the hygienic quality of insect production, potential allergies, the adverse effects of excessive intake of chitin and the harmful or toxic natural substances found inherently in insects. The European Commission has asked for the assistance of the European Food Safety Authority EFSA to assess what is known about insects and their safety as food and feed. EFSA's report is not expected to be completed until in the autumn of 2015. 

Use of insects as food forbidden at present

The importation, selling, marketing or growing of whole or processed insects for use as food is at present forbidden until the history of use of the species within EU has been established or novel food authorisation has been granted to the species. Finland follows in this matter the line of interpretation recommended by the Commission, as do most of the EU countries.

Legislation has no bearing on what individual people eat or drink; everybody is personally responsible for that.

Most EU countries have forbidden the use of insects as food until further notice. With the existing regulations open to interpretation and currently being made more specific, some countries have decided to abide their time and have so far not taken a stance on the marketing of insects. However, also these countries have banned the food use of insects from which some parts (e.g. legs, wings, head, intestines) have been removed and ingredients isolated or extracted from insects (e.g. protein isolates).

The situation may change in the EU, and thus also in Finland, if some insect species is shown to have been used as food in the area of the EU prior to the year 1997. It would then not be a novel food and could find its way to the European tables quite soon.

Food regulations apply also to insects

Insects sold, marketed, delivered or served as food are governed by the same food regulations as any other foods. In addition to the EU's general food and hygiene regulations, they fall within the scope of also novel food regulations.

Insects are considered to be novel foods, because so far none of the Member States have been able to confirm the history of use as food in the area of the EU prior to 1997 for any insect or food produced from an insect. The Novel Food Regulation as such has been adopted in all EU countries.

Novel Food Regulation under preparation may make for a simpler approval procedure

The wording has been made more specific in the draft Regulation to make it clearly cover also whole insects. A simplified approval procedure for foods traditionally used in third countries has also been recorded in the draft. Although it has so far not been possible to establish for insects a history of food use to a significant degree in the EU area, many non-EU countries can prove a long tradition of eating insects. In the future, some insects may well fall within the scope of this new special category and the new, facilitated procedure.

The preparation of the new Novel Food Regulation has come a long way, and provided it progresses as expected, the Regulation could be adopted towards the end of 2015, at the earliest.

Food use possibilities of insects investigated

The European Commission is working actively to resolve the insect issues, and for example, assesses the history of use of insects as food within the EU. Authorities in EU Member States are also conducting a continuous dialogue with each other and the Commission in order to clarify the situation and to create consistent practices in all EU countries.

Finland will not at this point make any national interpretations about the use of insects, but will comply with the common policies agreed on in the EU.