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Strategic task force to help insect firms navigate novel food regulation

By Natalie Morrison , 29-Sep-2016
Last updated on 29-Sep-2016 at 13:11 GMT2016-09-29T13:11:39Z

 © iStock
© iStock

The International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF) wants workable and consistent rules for insect producers across the EU and is setting up a strategic task force to help manufacturers navigate their way through EU regulation.

“The workability and predictability of EU authorisation procedures is key for insect producing companies,” IPIFF secretary general, Christophe Derrien told FoodNavigator.

“[Yet] IPIFF fears that member states diverging interpretations may create discriminations between producers depending on the country where they are located whilst entailing disruptive effects on trade,” 

One manufacturer, Bastien Rabastens, CEO and co-founder of French grub snack start-up company Jimini’s, confirmed that opinions vary among member states resulting in differing interpretations.

“The majority of them (member states) consider that 'whole insects’ and their preparations are already covered under the current novel food text and should therefore not benefit from the transitional measures. A few of them would be more open, such as the UK or the Netherlands,” he told FoodNavigator.  

The law, EU regulation (2015/2283) , for the first time specifies rules for “whole insects and their parts,” whereas the status of whole insects was unclear in its predecessor regulation (EC) 258/97 .

“The new regulation will apply from 1 January 2018, but foods currently ‘lawfully placed on the market’ are granted an additional two-year transition period,” IPIFF said in its response  to the regulation.

In its latest bid for clarity at its general assembly meeting this month, IPIFF said collaboration between industry and regulators will be crucial for successful implementation of the law.

IPIFF welcomes the new regulation as a replacement to the “problematic” (EC) 258/97, under which it was unclear whether whole insects were covered. Certain Member States deemed whole insects a novel food, and regulated them as such, whereas others did not.

Yet, the new law still has some kinks and needs more planning to ensure it is workable.

For example, it only specifies that the products “lawfully placed on the market” may benefit from the two-year transitional period and this condition is defined by each member state individually, Derrien explained.

Task force for a fledgling industry

The insect industry comprises mainly start-ups and small to medium enterprises (SMEs), said Derrien, and is therefore “hardly impacted” by the regulatory, administrative and financial burden imposed by legislation.

Nevertheless, a new generic authorisation system under the novel foods regulation holds promise. “We understand that the legislator offered new tools to facilitate applications by groups of producers covering a single product or a variety of related products.

“Possibilities for joint applications is particularly important for insect producing companies (which are largely SMEs and start-ups) and who usually have more limited financial capacities.”

Without the ability to jointly apply for market authorisation, companies must shoulder substantial costs – an estimated €150,000 to €200,000 – for application documents demonstrating the product does not pose a risk to human health.

This month IPIFF also reportedly announced it would establish a strategic task force to accompany producers in discussions with authorities as one solution.

“A few organisational issues still have to be arranged but first meetings are already being planned,” Derrien revealed.

Rabastens hailed the idea of an IPIFF task force which enables companies in the insect sector to “speak with one voice” to the Commission.

Insect product makers also tend to invest more in research activities than many other areas of the food industry, Derrien said, adding this would not be possible for them without “clear and realistic” rules for marketing authorisation.

Signs of growing insect trade

Despite concerns over workability, the new law standardises regulations over insect products where they were previously fractured.

“By clarifying the fact that whole insects and their parts are (…) covered under the new text, the EU legislator showed the willingness to address this particular problem: ‘legal visibility’ being key for companies to secure their production activities and investments plans,” Derrien said.

“The establishment of a central EU procedure under the new text is also step forward in that prospective, by creating the conditions for a level playing field between insect producers across the EU.”

Rabastens told us: “From my point of view, this news legislation is a breakthrough for insect based product as it's setting a legal framework by including it explicitly in the novel food (law).”

He said the law should have a positive impact for business, noting: “This kind of legislation is a good sign from the legislator to the market,” since its shows insect based products are a sizeable enough market to need a legal framework.

Jimini’s is currently developing a host of new products which will be subject to the new EU legislation, he added, noting one such product will be announced at SIAL in Paris this October.

IPIFF added: “With EFSA charging no application fee, costs will be reduced and by centralising the assessment of dossiers, the duration of the procedure is expected to shorten from 36 to 18-24 months.

“IPIFF greatly appreciates the move towards ‘generic authorisations’ and the encouragement to create joined dossiers, which, we hope, will benefit SMEs and start-ups in the insect sector.”

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