Mealworms got approval for EU plates on Wednesday from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), based in the Italian town of Parma – best known for its tasty pasta, tomatoes, ham and cheese.
In fact, larvae of the black beetle (Tenebrio molitor) and usually fed to reptiles and pet fish, yellow worms may soon be the first “new food” allowed for sale across the EU, assuming the European Commission adds his approval.
Rich in protein, fat and fiber, they could be eaten whole or powdered in snacks and noodles, assuming their original feed was free of contaminants, the Italy-based European agency concluded.
“ Great ” interest in the food sector
Ermolaos Ververis, EFSA food specialist, said there was great interest in the “edible insect sector” of the food industry and the scientific community.
Mealworms are the first species to be approved out of 15 insects subject to risk assessment procedures delegated to EFSA in 2018 under a 2015 EU regulation.
The food agency EFSA has 156 requests for “new food” on its plate. These also include edible products derived from seaweed.
The “ yuck factor ” could decrease
For many Europeans, eating insects still triggered a “yuck” reaction, said Giovanni Sogari, a consumer researcher at the University of Parma.
“With time and exposure, such attitudes can change,” he speculated.
Elsewhere in the world, including Africa and Central America, chewing insect chips, cooking with them, even mealworm burgers, have long become the norm, so-called entomophagy, alongside massive meat consumption, which is partly responsible for climate change.
Two EU countries, Austria and Germany, already have special waivers for insect snacks.
Response to food insecurity?
Around the world, thousands of insects are potential candidates – prompting the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2013 to speculate that “eating insects can help fight insecurity food ”.
Even fed on bio-waste, insects consumed far less water than livestock and could be cultivated more easily, FAO said.
“For example, pigs produce 10 to 100 times more greenhouse gases per kilogram (pound) than mealworms,” the United Nations agency said.
Experts warn that some insect species could become extinct globally over the next few decades – largely due to habitat loss due to land conversion to intensive agriculture, as well as urbanization and the use of pesticides.
The EU’s EFSA warned on Wednesday that insect protein is sometimes overestimated and that potential allergies should be watched for.
ipj / dj (Reuters, dpa, TBEN)