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Belgium Takes a Serious Look at the Food Safety of Insects

Neither Belgium nor the European Union has any specific regulations regarding breeding and marketing insects for human consumption, but the trade is tolerated. And why not? Insects, according to the Scientific Committee of the (Belgium) Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain, “offer great potential” as alternative sources of dietary protein.

But what about food safety?

The agency is out with “Common Advice” about the food-safety aspects of insects, a 22-page paper validated by the country’s Superior Health Council. It suggests that, while there are about 1,500 to 2,000 edible insect species in the world, and that, in some regions, they’ve been eaten by human for centuries, there isn’t much scientific literature on the food safety of insects.

“To guarantee the food safety of entomophagy on a large scale, more research on the microbial and chemical safety of insects destined for human consumption is needed,” the agency’s Common Advice paper states.

The paper addresses “the potential microbial, chemical (including allergens) and physical hazards specifically related to the consumption of insects … .”

“These hazards depend on the insect species, the cultivation conditions (feed and environment) and the subsequent processing, and can largely be controlled by the adequate application of the prevailing good hygiene and manufacturing practices during breeding and marketing of insects,” it continues.

“Nevertheless, a heating step before consumption is indispensable as well as the mentioning of appropriate storage and preparation conditions on the label. The label should additionally contain a warning for a possible allergic reaction of persons allergic to seafood and/or dust mites.”

In their study of insects for human consumption, Belgian researchers centered on about a dozen species that were marketed in the country in 2011. They included: house crickets, greater and lessor wax moths, litter beetles, buffalo worms, silk moths, banded crickets, field crickets, African migratory locust, American desert locust, yellow mealworms and super worms.

The paper acknowledges that “eating insects is rather uncommon and often considered strange,” but it also points out such common uses as cockchaver soup containing May beetles in France and Germany and other local uses are examples of common insect consumption.

“Considering the problems that occur in the production of animal proteins concerning the environment (climate, environmental hygiene, biodiversity), the world food issue (food supply, animal production efficiency, third world problems), excessive consumption, etc., alternative sources of food proteins are becoming increasingly important,” it states.

Europe’s novel food regulations, requiring risk assessments, apply to insects that were not habitually consumed prior to May 1997. Belgium is unlikely to relax those regulations unless changes are specifically called for by the European Commission.

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