Insect-based food: the upcoming authorization of Locusta migratoria and the state of the art of the field

Oct 27, 2021
Sébastien Bouley

In October 2021, the draft of the EU regulation authorizing Locusta migratoria as a novel food was approved by the PAFF Committee within the European Commission. The regulation should be adopted in the weeks to come.

At the beginning of October, the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF Committee), that includes delegates of all Member States and a representative of the European Commission, approved a regulation draft that should allow the use of Locusta migratoria (migratory locust) as novel food within the European Union. The regulation should be adopted in the weeks to come. These steps follow the EFSA Opinion on the safety of frozen and dried formulations from Locusta migratoria responding to specified criteria, which was adopted in May 2021.

The EFSA Opinion on Locusta migratoria

The Opinion concerns three formulations of the insect: without its legs and wings, as frozen or dried; or including them, presented as powder. The novel food would be accessible to the general population either in the form of a snack or as ingredient in several food categories (including soups and meat imitates), that are listed in the Opinion.

The EFSA panel points out, however, that the substance could cause allergic reactions due to its protein content, especially among people that are allergic to crustaceans, products thereof, and mites. The coming Regulation will most likely address this issue by setting dedicated label warnings.

As the EFSA states that it couldn’t have completed its assessment without the support of proprietary data provided by the applicant, Fair Insects BV, the use of the novel food will be very possibly granted in exclusivity to it, unless another application, basing on other data, is positively judged by the Authority in the future.

Insects as novel foods in the EU: the current situation

The favorable EFSA Opinion on Locusta migratoria is the second EFSA assessment, ever, on insects as novel foods. It comes after the positive Opinion, adopted in November 2020, on the safety of thermally dried Tenebrio molitor larvae (yellow mealworm), whole or in powder, which was formally approved as novel food through Regulation (EU) 2021/882 and can be used as snack or as an ingredient in food (as biscuits); and it has already been followed by two more positive EFSA Opinions, adopted in July 2021: one on frozen and dried formulations of Acheta domesticus (house cricket) as a snack or as ingredient in several food products (including, for example, whey powder), and a second one on Tenebrio molitor, in frozen and freeze-dried formulations, whole or in powder, used as a snack or as ingredient in products as chips.

Additionally, according to the European Commission website, the EFSA is currently working on 9 more applications of insect-based novel foods.

All of this means that within the coming weeks or few months the European market will see the establishment of various foods containing Locusta migratoria and Acheta domesticus, as well as extended applications of Tenebrio molitor; in the coming years, new species of insects may join the list.

It is true, however, that consumers could already find on the market insect-derived food prior to 2021, the year of the first authorization of insects as novel food: how is that possible?

Why was insect-based food already on the market before its first approval as novel food?

The reasons for the current situation are historical: if the present novel food regulation, Regulation (EU) 2015/2283, in application since January 2018, considers all insect-based food as novel and subjected to prior authorization, the same cannot be said on the previous one, Regulation (EC) 258/97, which generated ambiguity as per the consideration of whole insects and preparations from whole insects as novel food. In some Member States, because of their interpretation of the law, these two categories were not seen as novel food, and they could be found on the market. Theoretically, they were bound to disappear as they are considered novel by the new regulation; however, Article 35.2 of Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 provides for a transition period for food that was already on the market prior to January 2018 and for which a novel food approval request was submitted during 2019, up until the European Commission decision on the matter. It is interesting to note that a 2020 judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union, with retroactive effect, established that whole insects were not to be seen as novel foods under Regulation (EC) 258/97.

The coming months will certainly bring developments and news on the blooming field of insect-based food!

Orchidali can help you assess the potentiality of your novel foods.