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Mealworm, anyone? These creepy crawlies may soon wind up on European dinner tables

February 11, 2022, 3:48 PM UTC

Europe has a hunger, and insects are on the menu.

For gourmands with an insatiable hankering for Acheta domesticus, there’s finally some good news. 

House crickets are now fit for consumption for all 450 million humans living in the European Union. 

On Thursday, Brussels green-lit an application filed just over three years ago by Fair Insects, based in Dongen, Netherlands, for their sale under the Novel Food Regulation. 

“Insects make up a substantial part of the daily diet of hundreds of millions of people around the world,” the European Commission explained in a statement, adding the critter will be available “in its entirety, either frozen or dried, and powder.”

Of course, reaching into a bag of freeze-dried crickets for a quick bite may not sound too appetizing for more conventional taste buds.

But given the unique foods popularized on the continent—escargot, gelatinous caviar, organs like tripe and sweetbread, even rotten herring—it’s hard to see how anyone in Europe could still be squeamish at the thought of eating a bug. 

The approval was the second granted by the EU this week for the Dutch company: yellow mealworms, typically fed to pet birds and reptiles and the larval form of darkling beetles, also got the seal of approval for eating in frozen, dried, or powdered form.

Previously, crickets, mealworms, and migratory locusts could only be sold as victuals in countries that permitted their sale. Soon, all three can be legally distributed for the entire European single market, following a thorough analysis by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

There’s still the question of how exactly we got to this point. Why is there such a pro-mealworm community?

Six-legged superfood

With an estimated 9 billion mouths to feed by 2050, policymakers argue that what we eat and how we produce it needs to be reevaluated as more wildlife habitat is slashed and burned to make way for crop fields to feed livestock.

Nearly a decade ago, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization identified insects as an ideal alternative protein source that could help facilitate the shift toward healthy and more sustainable lifestyles as part of an extensive report spanning nearly 200 pages.

U.K.-based house cricket breeder, Instar Farming, calls its bugs “six-legged superfood” made of 67% protein and packed with all nine essential amino acids. Instead of the 11,000 liters of water and 200 square meters of land needed to produce a kilogram of beef, the equivalent amount of cricket food can be produced with just five liters of water and 15 square meters of space.

That’s why the EU plans to spend €10 billion on new dietary innovations under the incubator program Horizon Europe, and insect-based proteins are considered one of the key areas of research. Currently there are nine applications for insects subject to a safety evaluation by the EFSA.

For those less enamored by the thought of munching on the occasional locust or even food made with insect flour, the EU has thought of that, too. Products containing insects will have to be labeled appropriately to flag any potential reactions, likely limited to those with a food allergy to crustaceans and mollusks.

There are a few requirements food producers must follow before selling their new bug superfoods for sale.

“A minimum 24 hours fasting period is required before killing the insects by freezing, to allow the adults to discard their bowel content,” it stipulated.  

Mmm-mmm. If that doesn’t just whet one’s appetite.

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