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News Article

Insects approved as ‘novel food’ by EFSA

Regulator warns of possible allergies but otherwise finds no safety concerns

EFSA the food standards body in Europe has approved dried meal worms the larvae of Tenebrio molitor as a novel food. The approval of an application by insect protein company  Agronutris paves the way for the insect food market in Europe to develop after stalling in 2018 when the EU ruled they required approval as novel foods.


Why eat insects?

Many cultures eat insects as part of their traditional foods. The UN has been encouraging insect consumption since 2013. FAO’s book “Edible Insects - Future prospects for food and feed security” says some 2 billion people consume insects as part of their traditional diet in Asia, Africa and Latin America and collectively humans consume over 1900 insect species. Nutritional studies show that edible insects have a healthy nutritional profile high in protein and low in saturated fats. As they can be grown on agricultural waste very efficiently, they also have a low carbon footprint. The book points out that they could help solve some of the world’s food and feed supply problems.


Mealworms as food

Mealworm consumption isn’t widespread, EFSA reports they have been recorded as food in Thailand, China and Mexico.  Korea, Switzerland and Australia and New Zealand have formally approved the use of this foodstuff.


Safety of mealworms

The approval document by the Panel on Nutrition, novel foods and food allergens noted no concerns about safety, although it comments that people with allergies to crustaceans and dust mites may have allergic reactions to mealworms. The document provides information about the nutritional composition of mealworms but warns that protein content may be overestimated using some methods as nitrogen also forms part of chitin the main component of insect exoskeleton. It estimates protein content of mealworms to be about 44 g/100g. the fat content is around 25-30 g/100g and only a quarter of that is saturated fats.

One area of food safety the EFSA investigated was microbial contamination, as the whole insect is consumed. The applicant provided details of growth and harvesting conditions. The applicant in tends to monitor the presence of parasites such as tapeworms Hymenolepis diminuta (‘rat tapeworm’) and Hymenolepis nana and the viral disease Newcastle disease. The mealworms go through a fasting stage after harvesting to allow the gut contents to be discarded, eliminating one source of contamination and they are killed by immersion in boiling water. This step kills many microbes that could be present elsewhere on the larvae. The insects are grown on vegetable and flour wastes which will also be monitored for heavy metals as the larvae can accumulate these.

The insects may now be approved for use but various European surveys suggest some consumers may need some persuading to eat them (see Further Reading for a list of studies). This aversion could be overcome by using dried powder forms of the mealworms rather than presenting them in whole form. The approval covers this use.


What foods will contain mealworms?

The application covers use in snacks other than chips, biscuits, proteins for sports people, pasta products and legume-based dishes.


What’s next?

The next step is for the European Commission to submit an act authorising the food to the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed. The EFSA ruling will come as a relief to European companies already producing insects as food. Countries in the EU had taken differing approaches to insects as food before 2018 when an EU ruling made them novel foods requiring specific approval, according to the Guardian newspaper. It says there are 15 insect related novel food applications in the pipeline at EFSA with 4 nearing final stages, fresh and dried crickets, litter bugs and locusts.


Find out more

Search for “insects as food”


Tenebrio and food


EFSA ruling

Safety of dried yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor larva) as a novel food pursuant to Regulation (EU) 2015/2283.


Article details

  • Author(s)
  • I. Hoskins
  • Date
  • 10 February 2021
  • Source
  • EFSA
  • Subject(s)
  • Food safety