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Insects crawling on the menu as EU labels yellow mealworms safe to eat

“Insects are complex organisms, which makes characterising the composition of insect-derived food products a challenge. Understanding their microbiology is paramount, considering also that the entire insect is consumed,” said EFSA chemist Ermolaos Ververis.

Insect-based diets could reduce farming’s environmental impact because they require less energy and water, while their high protein content could be a substitute for meat products.

Mr Ververis warned though that “the true protein levels can be overestimated” and that anybody with an allergy to crustaceans or dust mites should steer clear of mealworms, as eating them could trigger a reaction.

Giovanni Sogari, a researcher at the University of Parma, said that time and exposure to edible insects could change consumer attitudes and banish the “yuck factor” associated with bug-based diets, which “many Europeans find repellent”.

EFSA is working on several other applications, including locusts, crickets and beetles.

Once its assessment is endorsed by the European Commission and EU countries, companies will be free to ramp up manufacturing and include mealworms in their products.

It is not the first alternative foodstuff to end up on the plates of EU officials. Last year, MEPs voted against a motion to rename ‘veggie burgers’, which the meat industry had claimed was a misleading title.

urope’s pasta bowls and dinner dishes, after becoming the first insect approved in the region as a human food.

Wednesday’s decision by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) paves the way for the yellow grubs to be used whole and dried in curries and other recipes and as a flour to make biscuits, pasta and bread.

Their use could provide a more environmentally friendly source of protein compared to meat and fish. 

Despite their name, mealworms are beetle larvae rather than worms and are already used in Europe as a pet food ingredient.

Rich in protein, fat and fibre, they are likely to be the first of many insects to feature on European’s plates in the coming years, EFSA chemist and food scientist Ermolaos Ververis told Reuters.

Under his supervision, mealworms were the first insect that the EU agency assessed under a “novel food” regulation that came into effect in 2018, triggering a flood of similar applications.

“There is great interest of the scientific community and also the food industry in the edible insect sector,” he said.

People across much of the world – including parts of Africa, Australia and New Zealand – already enjoy tucking into insect bars, cricket burgers and other grub-based foods,

Once the European Commission ratifies ESFA’s endorsement, Europe will join them.

Some sociologists, however, believe psychological barriers particularly strong in Europe mean it will be some time before the yellow worms start flying off supermarket shelves there.

“There are cognitive reasons derived from our social and cultural experiences – the so-called ‘yuck factor’ – that make the thought of eating insects repellent to many Europeans,” said Giovanni Sogari, a social and consumer researcher at the University of Parma in Italy.

“With time and exposure, such attitudes can change.”

EFSA said it had received 156 applications for “novel food” safety assessments since 2018, covering everything from algae-derived foods to an array of insect species.