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Brussels Insect Conferences Roundup

On 26 April Nick Rousseau attended IPIFF’s workshop “State of the art of the insect sector and latest regulatory developments” on behalf of Woven Network and its members.

He also attended PROteINSECT’s concluding conference the following day. Both events were held in Brussels.

Here are his observations:

IPIFF’s work on standards

One of the most striking things for me was what IPIFF are doing on standards – they are working with their members on very clear ways of operating that manage the primary risks highlights in the EFSA opinion around substrate and processing of insect materials. The speaker presentations were very insightful, and are available here.

Insects as Feed

An exclusive reception was hosted by Jan Huitema MEP, a Dutch dairy farmer, where PROTeINSECT launched their White Paper advocating the adoption of insects for livestock feed. You can read the White Paper here.

You can also download presentations from the conference on PROteINSECT’s website.

The event highlighted to me that there is support for this within the European Parliament, but this support is from an isolated voice.  That said, there was one UK MEP present which was encouraging, another farmer.

I understand that Dr Elaine Fitches who has led the PROteINSECT Project at Fera Science will be meeting a DEFRA Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) shortly to discuss the case for supporting insects for livestock feed.  She feels there is a more compelling case for reducing restrictions on this than on food. I have offered to accompany her to highlight that there is a growing industry sector in the UK that would have a keen interest and represent the start of a major new economic opportunity.

The conference on the next day was rather more encouraging with a packed venue (apparently they had a sizeable waiting list) and plenty of evidence that the UK is pro-active in this area – from the Fera led project to the representation by UK researchers, farmers and others.

The Commission has established that, legally, insect farmers where they are intending for feed, are “feed business operators” (according to article 83/2005). You can also legally supply insect fat for livestock – it is just the protein that is restricted.

The PROteINSECT research found that the risks from livestock eating properly farmed insects are minimal, and that growth performance and flavour of the resulting animals were not affected. They will be making a strong case for legislation that is restricting this to be lifted.

Canada may shortly be introducing legislation to allow insects for feed, which could help put pressure on the EU. Other trading blocks look at the EU as template for legislation.

A study was done under PROteINSECT of the Life Cycle sustainability of insect farming – is it truly sustainable? Realistically, at a very early stage in development, which IFF is, it is not that realistic to expect insect farming operations to be sustainable – the key is to see how far it has to go and what key changes would make the greatest difference. The most striking finding was that the changes that will make insect farming more economically sustainable could also increase its environmental sustainability. A lot comes down to the substrates used.

  • EU imports 15mt soymeal per year, which provides 60% of EU animal feed protein.
  • Soya yield is 1 tonne /ha/year
  • Insects yield is 1000 tonne/ha/year
  • EU produces 89mt food waste per year, 14000 mt of manure per year
  • If we use 10% of manure to rear fly larvae could provide 1.75mt a year.
  • Insect farming is socially more accessible – can start to become an insect producer with less than 50$!! Can be economic opportunity to many.
  • In the PROTeINSECT consumer survey 70% thought it was totally acceptable to feed insect protein to farmed animals. 66% comfortable with eating farmed animals fed on insects, but 30% say they need to know more.  64% think no or low risk from this.
  • In terms of how much to substitute with insects, PROTeINSECT study identified (for the house-fly) – salmon up to 40% of protein replacement, chickens up to 25%, piglets up to 20%. Study the performance of the animals.

Insects as Fishmeal

The European Commission representative advised us that they are working on the changes that are needed to enable insects to be fed as part of fish farming. If this goes through the European Parliament with no objections it could be in place by end of 2016. Needless to say, there may be objections and so be prepared for further delays.

  • Insects are naturally up to 70% of a trout’s diet.
  • Amino acid profile of insects can be similar to fishmeal.

Novel Food Insights

We had presentations from the European Commission on both days showing the attention that is being paid to insects as food and feed (IFF). There was more detail than I had previously heard about how legislation is changing and the Novel Food approval process:

  • Under the Novel Food requirement, interested bodies will be able to submit applications for a product that a number of businesses are intending to market.
  • Businesses will need to review how they manage their intellectual property in this context – the Commission will publish Novel Food applications approvals which could include sensitive information, unless a business explicitly asks them not to.
  • There will not be a fee for submitting an application.
  • There is an entirely separate process for submitting the case for a food item that is consumed in a non-EU country being approved and this could be dealt with very quickly if there are no objections.

Other Observations

Outside of Novel Foods legislation, the United Nations is reviewing its policy regarding IFF and there were suggestions that other vested interests expressed by countries that stand to lose out if IFF grows are having some influence. The UK and other European governments need to back IFF if the UN is to continue to support this as a theme with its research capacity and influence.

Discussions at the conference and over coffee, etc. highlighted that while there is a need to act at European level (and even at UN) to get the conditions in place for the legal incorporation of insects into food and feed, there can also be significant challenges at the more local level with securing reliable sources of substrate for insect farms. This is clearly exercising a lot of people’s minds and is something where Woven could do well to partner with the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

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As ever, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or ideas for taking some of these issues forward. Woven Network is at your service!

Nick’s email is nick.rousseau@woven-network.co.uk

This article was edited by Harold Stone – his email is harold.stone@woven-network.co.uk

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Summary of the EFSA Risk Profile

Who are the EFSA?

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is an independent EU agency, established after a series of food crises in the 1990s, to be a source of scientific advice and communication on food chain risks. Their workload is set by requests from either the European Commission, the European Parliament, or EU Member States.

This report was requested by the European Commission, and you can read the full text here.

Belgium, France, Iceland and the Netherlands had previously conducted their own risk assessments related to insects as food or feed.

The request came in advance of the EU decision whether or not to categorise edible insects as Novel Foods, and on 25 November edible insects were categorised as Novel Foods. This has imposed new regulations on companies involved in the sector.

The request was presumably also motivated by a lack of data and knowledge regarding edible insects. This was also the conclusion of the EFSA – more data regarding edible insects is needed.

In a nutshell

No significant microbiological risk.

Further research and data generation is strongly recommended.

A number of important recommendations for insect farmers and processors are made.

Most of the potential risks (and potential benefits) are likely to come from the type of substrate used, and corresponding farming and processing practices.

Focus areas

In the format of a risk profile, the report focuses on four main areas:

  1. Biological hazards (bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, prions)
  2. Chemical hazards (heavy metals, toxins, veterinary drugs, hormones)
  3. Allergenicity
  4. Environmental hazards

Findings overview

More research is highly recommended

See “Recommendations” below.

No significant microbiological risk

When fed on currently allowed materials (not on waste streams), rearing insects is not expected to be any more dangerous than rearing other livestock, in terms of microbiological hazards.

Insects are also much more genetically different from us than other livestock (birds, mammals), presenting a much lower risk of zoonotic diseases. In theory the same should apply for prion diseases such as vCJD.

– Matt Anderson

The hazards associated with rearing insects on waste streams (e.g. kitchen waste, garden and forestry waste, human and animal manure, slaughterhouse waste) need to be specifically assessed.

Hazards are affected by a range of factors

The EFSA acknowledged that biological and chemical hazards are influenced by:

  • Specific production methods
  • Specific substrate used
  • Stage of harvest
  • Insect species
  • Methods used for further processing

Environmental risks are comparable to other animals

“Hazards related to the environment are expected to be comparable to other animal production systems.”

It is important to note that the EFSA are referring specifically to potential environmental hazards, not potential environmental benefits. Potential environmental benefits include: substituting soy beans, substituting fishmeal, livestock emissions, water footprint, land footprint, and food-conversion efficiency.

– Harold Stone

Collation of existing data

The report pulls together existing data on production, consumption, supply chain, food and feed.

This report confirmed the lack of data regarding the consumption of edible insects. European trends in insect eating can only be estimated from sales of insect products. Other than the inclusion of insects as a category in the EFSA’s own standardised food classification system (FoodEx2), there have so far been limited attempts to acknowledge insects as a food category in Europe.

– Matt Anderson

Findings in detail

Bacteria

The concern is whether bacteria could be pathonogenic to humans (e.g. Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter). Unlike poultry and larger animal livestock, these pathonegnic bacteria are unable to replicate inside the insect gut, which reduces the risk.

Substrate choice and processing methods still need to be carefully regulated, and further research is needed.

Viruses

The report considers the potential transfer of viruses from insects to humans. There is no evidence of a jump having ever occurred.

Humans can act as vectors for some human viruses (e.g. dengue fever) which are able to replicate within the insect. Again however, there is no evidence of this in farmed insects to date.

There is also no scientific evidence for insect virus infections inducing major metabolic changes in insects, that would in turn produce substances toxic to humans.

Further research is nevertheless recommended.

Parasites

Parasites should not be a problem in properly managed closed farming environments, because they will not have access to all of the hosts needed to complete their life cycles.

Prions

The risk of insect-derived prions infecting humans is zero, but there may be a risk of insects acting as vectors for our own prions.

This could be a problem if insects are raised on human or animal derived substrates (e.g. slaughterhouse or sewerage). Further research is recommended into this.

Chemical hazards

For toxins, the focus is on the substrate used.

For heavy metals, pesticides and biocides, further research is recommended.

For hormones and veterinary drugs, insects should undergo the same testing as other animals.

Allergenicity

Allergic reactions to insects can be caused by inhalation or contact, and primarily occur with people who regularly come into contact with insects – e.g. entomologists and fish bait breeders. There have been cases of allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock in humans from consumption.

The potential for allergic reactions cannot be controlled by choice of substrate, as is the case for most of the risks discussed in the report.

The obvious solution, provided the risks assessed through research are not higher than acceptable levels, is to inform consumers of the insect content and potential allerginictiy and/or cross-reactivity of insect-derived products through adequate food labelling.

– Matt Anderson

Processing

“Boiling insects for five minutes is an efficient process for eliminating Enterobacteriaceae but not spore-forming bacteria. Thus, storage at refrigeration temperature (5 to 7 °C) is suggested.”

A few minutes of boiling is also recommended before roasting.

Environmental

The report explores a variety risks associated with semi-cultivation practices (rearing insects in open habitats).

The potential for nutrient-rich fertilizers derived from insect-production waste is also explored.

Recommendations

Farming and processing

Boil and refrigerate, and boil before roasting, to eliminate spore-forming bacteria.

Introduce controlled antimicrobial use for insect farming, keep a close watch on bacterial populations in case resistance develops.

“The adoption of existing waste management strategies should be applicable for managing waste from insect production. Assessment of the individual production systems will determine the precise strategy to be adopted on a case by case basis.”

Ensure the proper management of closed farming environments, to reduce the risk of parasites.

For allergen risks, food labelling “insect content” and “potential shellfish allergy” should be considered.

There is lack of pre-marketing human results and reports of workers’ sensitisations.

On processing, the EFSA found “a lack of information relation to precise details regarding processes used.” Perhaps insect farmers and processors could help provide the EFSA and others with such details.

There is also potentially a lot more to be learned from countries and cultures with histories of eating (and processing) insects.

– Harold Stone

Environmental

More research (specific assessment) of rearing insects on substrates such as kitchen waste, garden and forestry waste, slaughterhouse waste, and human or animal manure.

Dr Arnold van Huis has also specifically identified a “particular need for research into the water footprint of producing edible insect protein, as there is currently no publication on this”.

– Harold Stone

More research

The EFSA highly recommends further data generation, and identifies the following uncertainties:

Consumption

  • There are no systematically collected data available on insect consumption in European countries;
  • The pattern of consumption may only be estimated through sales data of insect product;
  • How and to what extent the inclusion of insects in gastronomy and in the product range of food suppliers can impact the general consumption pattern in the population is unclear but holds the potential for a rapid change in future consumption patterns;
  • There is lack of consolidated information relating to the magnitude and frequency of managed feeding of insects to farm animals.

Biological

  • There is a lack of studies on the occurrence of human and animal bacterial pathogens in insects processed for food and feed are very scarce in the scientific literature;
  • Insect virus infections do induce major metabolic changes in insects and may produce substances toxic to humans, but there is no scientific evidence for such a case;
  • There is lack of information relating to the likelihood of human viruses such as norovirus, rotavirus, Hepatitis E and A being passively transferred from feedstock through residual insect gut contents;
  • Information in the literature refers to non-European areas (mostly Asia) and to insects harvested in the wild, and so the risk of parasites can be very different from what is found in farmed insects, with strict control of environmental conditions and substrates applied;
  • There is lack of information on the extent to which insects act as mechanical vectors of prions.

Chemical

  • Published data on hazardous chemicals in reared insects in scientific literature are scarce;
  • Data on accumulation/excretion of chemical contaminants from the substrates are very limited;
  • To date, there is lack of information on the use of veterinary medicines for the treatment of insects to be used for food and feed;
  • No information is available on the potential formation of food-processing contaminants during processing insects.

Allergens

  • There is lack of pre-marketing human results and reports of workers’ sensitizations.

Processing

  • There is a lack of information relating to precise details of the processes used.

Environmental

  • There is lack of information on the environmental impact of different mass-rearing insect productions systems.

Outside of this list the report also seems to suggest further research into:

  • The interaction between production methods, substrates used, stage of harvest, species and developmental stage, and methods for further processing;
  • Specific assessment of waste stream substrates.

Responses

“There are questions about how farming methods could introduce food safety risks, for example, microbiological contamination. It is likely that appropriate techniques will control risks, but as it is a new sector there may not be established good practice.”

Eoghan Daly, The Institute of Food Safety Integrity and Protection (interviewed by Environmental Health News)

 

“Addressing the European protein deficit through the use of novel feeds is key to ensuring our future food security, so this opinion is a positive development.”

Dr Adrian Charlton, PROteINSECT

 

“This opinion is an important stepping stone in furthering our understanding of the potential of insects as a protein source It provides valuable insight against which PROteINSECT can continue to communicate our research findings to key stakeholders across Europe and beyond, on production, processing, quality, safety and consumer acceptance around insect protein for animal feed.”

Dr Elaine Fitches, PROteINSECT

 

“EFSA concludes that the main risks come from the rearing and processing methods and not from the insects … Insects should be allowed in aquaculture.”

Antoine Hulbert, IPIFF

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons