The proposals would allow edible insects to remain on sale if they were marketed in the EU or the UK before 1 January 2018 and were the subject of an application to the EU for authorisation as a novel food by 1 January 2019. Additional applications for authorisation must be made to the FSA or FSS by 31 December 2023 for the product to remain on the market while the application is assessed.
The plan, detailed in a public consultation launched yesterday, aims to deliver ‘clarity’ to the British edible insect industry. The FSA said it is ‘keen’ to bring forward necessary legal changes ‘as soon as possible’.
“Our proposals will help businesses that have been affected by the uncertainty around insects for human consumption since the end of December 2020,” FSA Policy Director, Rebecca Sudworth, said. "Edible insect products will need to pass through the full authorisation process in Great Britain to remain on the market, so we encourage businesses to talk to us about getting their applications in and the support we can provide through the process.”
Edible insects, food safety and compliance
All insects are considered to be Novel Foods unless they were one of a very limited number of species that were commonly consumed within the EU or UK before the regulation came into force in 1997. In 2018, the Novel Food regulation was updated to include whole edible insects within the framework for the first time – meaning Novel Food approval is required. However, a transition period was allotted for products already on sale to provide the industry time to move to compliance and submit their Novel Food dossiers.
When the UK left the EU, rules covering the sale of edible insects were transferred, meaning that from 1 January 2021 only edible insects authorised by FSA or FSS can be placed on the market unless they are covered by transitional measures. The new proposal from FSA aims to provide a legislated transition period in Great Britain that edible insect businesses can use to facilitate the authorisation process.
According to a generalised risk assessment conducted by the FSA and FSS to support the consultation, the safety risks associated with edible insect products are ’low’, provided appropriate measures are in place such as hygiene standards during rearing of the insects to avoid contamination, heat treatment, and labelling on allergy risks.
“We are totally committed to only safe food products being on the market for UK consumers,” UK Edible Insect Association managing director, Dr Nick Rousseau, told FoodNavigator.
However, he stressed, it is imperative to speed the authorisation process and allow the edible insect industry to flourish in the UK. “We face the risk to humanity of climate change if we do not find more sustainable food options and the Government seems to have its emphasis wrong.”
Indeed, it would seem that a significant number of consumers agree with Dr Rousseau. FSA research shows that consumers in the UK have an increased interest and demand for healthy and sustainable diets, with a focus on meat alternatives. Over one quarter (26%) of UK consumers would be willing to try eating edible insects – with environmental concerns or sustainability the most common reasons.
“Research from our members’ extensive trials and user testing show that edible insect products, when professionally farmed and manufactured, offer the environmentally concerned consumer nutritious, tasty, and safe food products that can meet a significant proportion of their protein needs,” Dr Rousseau noted.
Edible insect industry chafes at 'onerous' authorisation process
The UK Edible Insect Association is working to bring edible insect companies with an interest in a particular species together to spread the cost of Novel Food applications. “This means that there has to be enough interest in any one species,” we were told.
The Association has already submitted one dossier on Acheta Domesticus, or the house cricket, and another is going to be ready ‘very soon’. Once evidence is submitted, it will take the FSA around 18 months to reach a decision.
But Dr Rousseau stressed that the sector faces a number of hurdles and bottlenecks. “The costs of putting a dossier together are very high, hence the need to share costs. We also don’t really know what detailed questions or further research the FSA will require. We are partnering with the Belgian Insect Industry Federation who have formed similar clubs to submit dossiers to the EFSA, which further reduces the costs. We understand that the total cost of a dossier can be around £100k,” the edible insect industry representative stressed.
“We feel the Novel Food approach is extremely onerous and look forward to the debate we expect to happen around end of this year regarding this, as it is one of many areas of legislation imported from Europe. Other countries have identified insect species that are widely consumed and recognised as low risk and simply allowed them to be traded. The Novel Food approach requires each individual species to be approved, based on the over 100 pages of evidence we have had to compile.
“Our members are very professional farmers and food product companies that follow all good practice in food hygiene that sold around 1m insect products before they were classified as Novel Foods, with no complaints or ill effects.”