The guidance document is intended to be used by food control authorities, suppliers, breeders and manufacturers of insect-based foods.
Evira has invited breeders and manufacturers to an event this Friday to kick-start the process. “We are going to ask their opinion and we will also tell them what we think the guidelines should include,” said senior officer at the authority Riina Keski-Saari.
Confirmed companies include Nordic Insect Economy, Finsect, Entocube, Entis and Muurahaiskauppa.
Precise details will be available in November, when the guidelines are due to be published, but Evira has already said that only farm-grown, whole insects will be authorised.
This means that no parts of the insects may be removed, isolated or extracted during processing, although whole insects can be chopped or ground to make flour or powder.
The guidelines will also include a list of approved insect species as well as labelling requirements. Listing allergen information will be compulsory as chitin found in insects’ exoskeleton can trigger an allergic reaction in individuals allergic to crustaceans.
Evira will also be holding training courses for its food control officers and Keski-Saari said it hoped to extend this to food business operators to aid them in complying with the rules, although this will be dependent on available resources.
Open for business
Eating insects is no bugbear for Finns who have shown an appetite for six-legged snack – in theory at least.
A survey carried out last year by the University of Turku and Finland’s Natural Resources Institute (Luke) involving over 500 Finnish participants found that 70% were interested in insects as food while around half would buy insect-based foods if they were available in shops.
This perhaps explains why, despite the regulatory obstacles, there are already several insect companies up and running in Finland, and the country’s nascent insect industry has welcomed the news.
EntoCube sees big opportunities in the changes. It manufactures container units of various sizes that can be used to farm food-grade insects, and the company is currently working with NASA to develop closed-loop food production systems that could be used to grow sustainable protein in space or on Mars.
'A fair opportunity to succeed or fail'
"This will give Finland a competitive advantage, attract international talent here and solidify Finland as a mecca for edible insect farming and food," EntoCube co-founder Robert Nemlander said. "With the legislative hurdle out of the way, creating a vibrant market for edible insects is now in the hands of the industry itself and it will have a fair opportunity to succeed or fail."
Tommi Nuolioja, senior operational manager at Muurahaiskauppa, a firm whose purpose is to increase awareness of eating insects in Finland, also told FoodNavigator he hoped the guidelines would bring about more business development and more entrepreneurs in the industry.
Muurahaiskauppa sells a range of products online, from chocolate-coated scorpions to a superfood granola made with crickets, oat bran, banana leaf, flax seed, coconut flakes, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts and lingonberry powder.
Shelving the 'kitchen ornaments'
Under Finland’s current rules, however, insects are only allowed on the marketplace as ‘kitchen ornaments’ and marketing them as a food product is prohibited.
This explains the caveat that Muurahaiskauppa is forced to display on its website: “So far, legislation prevents the insects from being sold for human consumption, so the products are intended to be viewed, even if they contain delicious ingredients.”
Warning curious e-shoppers that the food you sell is not officially considered food is hardly going to be good for business, although Nuolioja couldn’t say if it had directly damaged Muurahaiskauppa’s sales. He believed most consumers were aware that insects are safe to eat.
“Several companies have been selling and producing insect foods as 'house ornaments' thus far to circumvent the regulations, and I think this is a major reason why Evira decided to update their guidelines. If people are going to sell those products anyways, it might as well be regulated and under control.”
For Sami Vekkeli, CEO of the Nordic Insect Economy which sells insect farming products and machinery, the guidance notes will legitimise the entire sector. "Ending the insect cluster’s status as an unregulated or wild sector is likely to improve the public image of the whole industry," he said.
What's on the menu?
Muurahaiskauppa wants to see mealworms (Tenebrio molitor larvae) and house crickets (Acheta domesticus) included in the authorised species. “Honey bee larvae (Apis mellifera) would be a nice addition as well,” said Nuolioja.
Nemlander echoed this but said the authorisations shouldn't stop at these three species. "Belgium has allowed 12 insect species and Austria 10 insect species."