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What you need to know about insects as novel food

Insects in food

In January 2023, the EU approved two more insects as food: the house cricket in powder form, and the lesser mealworm. Here is an overview of the most important questions and answers on the topic.

Which insects are allowed as food?

There are hundreds of edible insect species worldwide. In the EU, only four insects have so far been approved as food (under the Novel Food Regulation):

  • the dried larvae of the yellow mealworm beetle (Tenebrio molitor), also called mealworms (since June 2021)
  • the migratory locust (Locusta migratoria); frozen, dried and in powder form (since November 2021)
  • the house cricket (Acheta domesticus); frozen, dried and in powder form (since February 2022)
  • the partially defatted powder obtained from the house cricket (Acheta domesticus) (since January 2023)
  • the lesser mealworm (the larval form of Alphitobius diaperinus); frozen, dried, paste and powder forms (since January 2023)

Which foods may contain insects?

Insects can be eaten in whole as a snack or added in powdered form to various foods as an ingredient. For example, cookies, protein bars, chocolate, crackers, pasta, bread, baking mixes, cereals or meat substitutes are available. However, the insect content is generally low.

How healthy are insects?

Insects are considered highly nutritious, as they are high in protein and contain essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. No negative effects on health are known. The products approved in the EU have been tested for safety and come from controlled farming. However, there may be possible risks. For example, there are no legal requirements yet for the use of antibiotics and hormones in insect farming.

Are insects suitable for people with allergies?

Allergies to insects are rare, which is why they are not among the 14 allergens that are subject to labeling. However, cross-reactions in people with allergies to crustaceans or mollusks may occur: People who are allergic to shrimp, crabs, mussels or dust mites may also have an allergic reaction to insects. An appropriate allergy statement must appear in close proximity to the list of ingredients.

Will food containing insects be labeled?

Insects must be clearly labeled as an ingredient in the EU. Thus, anyone who follows a vegan diet or does not want to eat insects for other reasons has to take a look at the list of ingredients. However, the addition of insects is usually prominently advertised on the packaging as well; after all, edible insects are still a niche product and relatively expensive.

To determine whether a product contains insects, laboratories can test it for insect DNA using a PCR test.