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Representing Edible Insects in Parliament

 

As part of Nottingham Day in Parliament on 25 October, a team from Woven Network travelled to Westminster to represent and promote edible insects in the Houses of Parliament.

Woven Managing Director Nick Rousseau (Unconventional Connections) and Woven members Tony Askins (Next Step Foods) and Ross Bell (Kric8) were on hand to promote members’ products and the exciting potential of our growing UK-based edible insect industry.

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Speaking to a representative of the Food Standards Agency, Tony received the impression that Brexit has “the potential to facilitate a smoother progression through the novel food process”, as any decisions and requirements of the FSA will presumably not have to be ratified by other EU members or the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority).

He was also informed that the Conservative government “could be good for the industry, as they are pro-entrepreneurship and less keen on regulations that might get in the way of business”.

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Nick Rousseau had this to say:

We turned up at the “Green Room” which was on the other side of the square opposite the Houses of Parliament and set out our stall.  It was very impressive and the largest selection of insect-based food products I had certainly ever seen – possibly the largest in the UK.  We had everything from whole insects, flour, insect flavoured snacks, bars (with pieces to taste), pasta and pasta sauce as well as the Eat Grub recipe book and various bits of literature.

We all went over for the talk and discussion about the future of food in one of the rooms in Parliament, giving us a chance to see what it is like on the inside.  Very grand!  As a result of my lobbying, one of the University lecturers talked about insects and the potential role they could play, which I was able to pick up on along with a number of others in the Q&A.  Certainly some interest and I emphasised that there are plenty of successful products already on the market.

I had two conversations following the talk with the Chair of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (levy organisation) and Sat Bains the chef – who agreed to talk to me later about experimenting with insects in his restaurant.

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Comments from the day’s feedback form included:

Coffee and Vanilla, Dark Chocolate – both tasted okay, but in my mind I can’t get over the yuck factor, sorry!

Kric8 – dry roasted crickets. Tastier than I expected!  I like the texture!

Crunchy insects are great especially crickets –delicious!

Very tasty – liked the honey and mustard – get them in the high Street!

If only more people had an opportunity to try these innovative products – Excellent.  Why not book a stall at Sutton Bonnington Farmers Market at UoN SB Campus?

Woven Network plan to be involved with similar events in the future, and will be promoting insects as food and feed at Food Matters Live 22-24 November.

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Interested in joining Woven Network? Click here for full details of our membership packages.

And if you’re interested in trying some tasty insect snacks, visit our Marketplace to order your roasted crickets, energy bars, protein powders and more!

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FSA Report – Our Food Future

Very interesting to see the Food Standards Agency publish Our Food Future in February this year which includes quite a lot about edible insects and the challenges of building consumer acceptance of new forms of food.

This document is a literature review and synthesis of how food may have to change in the future to deliver what is needed, and the challenges associated with this.   It is part of a wider programme that aims to “put consumers first in everything we do” and ensure consumers have “the right to the best food future possible”. As well as a literature review it draws on recent public engagement activities run by the Wellcome Trust and Which?

Food Future report

The report contains a lot that would be of interest to any company seeking to create and market products for human consumption.

Some key points are:

  • Members of the public are generally not aware of the term “global food security” and they don’t think about the future of food or the issues around this – food is an immediate matter where their choices are based on short term considerations in the main.
  • For most people in everyday life food is not eaten as a result of rational deliberation – the most influential factors in food choice are price, quality and taste. Health considerations are subordinate to these and environmental considerations lesser still.  People will only change their approach to wider considerations where their immediate concerns around price, quality and taste are satisfied.
  • Food choices are heavily influenced by emotions, habit, convenience and a growing proportion of people’s choices are constrained by factors such as desire to lose weight, allergies, low incomes, cultural/religious considerations.
  • People are generally not aware of a “food system” – their perception of food innovation is associated with “unnatural, mechanised and alien”.
  • Eating meat can be fundamental to self and social identity – getting people to reduce their meat consumption is seen as much easier than persuading htem to stop entirely.
  • In considering new forms of food – various factors are considered. An assessment of risk (based on personal experience of risks and ill effects), the scale of the organism involved (high tech applied to small organisms seems to be more acceptable than to larger animals, for instance) and the degree of apparent naturalness…  Desire to see safe-guards in place to help with uncertainty.

The reference to eating insects is interesting (it seems best to quote it directly):

  • All other food technologies are much more emergent, attracting very little awareness among the public, and being very little researched to date in terms of public perceptions; these technologies include nanotech, and personalised nutrition advice based on genomics. In these spaces, experts call for awareness raising, or two-way dialogues in order to help the public establish their views. Finally, eating insects is an example of a potentially innovative practice (rather than a novel technology) which features in the literature. Indeed, eating insects is taken up by the wider public as the epitome of the debate on future foods – and is treated as novel, trivial, and revolting on social media, although in dialogue exercises it elicits few concerns, in principal at least (being both natural, and normal, somewhere).

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  • While ‘food futures’ is beginning to appear as a professional agenda, the future is a dimension which is missing from public discourses around food. A telling example of this is provided by a ‘social listening’ study undertaken for the Wellcome Trust (OLR 2014); social listening, whereby researchers analyse content which has been shared through publicly-accessible social media platforms (largely Twitter and Facebook), provides an interesting complement to conventional market research methods, in that, while it is not derived from a representative sample of the public, it analyses discourses which were created without any researcher inputs (hence there is no chance of leading the public – a constant risk in areas of low salience and understanding). The OLR study reports that the social media debate was confined to future foods, was “small in volume and limited in scope”, and that “most of the people talking about the topic were not seriously engaged with the future of food” (ibid.: 44). They conclude that “any triggers in debate were drowned out by general noise – mostly around the novelty of eating insects” adding that such discussion tended to be approached from the perspective of ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!’.

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  •  Insects
    This review opened by noting that the public’s spontaneous discussions of future foods (as evidenced by social media) revolved around eating insects, and that the topic was commonly trivialised and expressed simply in terms of ‘yuck factor’ (OLR 2014). Eating insects is an innovative practice, rather than a novel technology; it tends to fare better in public dialogues than it does on say Facebook, and in the Which? 2015 exercise it met with a relatively positive reception, respondents noting that eating insects was common in other countries, some of which countries had healthier diets than our own – thus it could be said to be ‘natural’ if not ‘normal’ here (Piazza et al. 2015). In the Which? dialogue, participants were also relatively positive about the idea of using insects as animal feed – eg for chickens, which again was deemed acceptable as it was “fairly natural for chickens to eat flies” (Which? 2015: 37). Discussions became more complicated when the process of feeding the insects on waste products was introduced, with some participants worrying that chickens would end up indirectly being fed on their own wastes.

The report concludes that a concerted effort is needed to engage with the public and open them up to a greater level of trust in the food industry and in positive attitude to new food products and types, as part of supporting innovation in the food system.  This should mean that he Government and bodies like FSA will be supportive of Woven’s members.

We will maintain a dialogue with DEFRA and FSA with this in mind.  It seems very positive and a genuine desire to see more positive public reactions to innovative new types of food and my contact in DEFRA is keen to use Woven as a means of getting into a  dialogue with entrepreneurs.

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Full Report on FSA Novel Foods Workshop

Woven was represented at the workshop by Nick Rousseau, Managing Director.  In addition Neil Whippey of EatGrub participated, so was able to speak directly about the experience of a company making products for human consumption.

The process for submitting to secure Novel Food approval and role of Committee and FSA

The process is:

  • Food product company compiles a dossier of evidence and completes application form – submitting to FSA
  • FSA gets the committee to review the dossier and assess the risk
  • Committee may well go back to food company for additional details or to highlight areas of concern
  • Committee ultimately advise FSA on level and nature of risks associated with the food product
  • FSA determines how manageable the risks are and what measures should be taken (eg. Labelling)
  • FSA submits this to European Commission who will generally agree with assessments coming from the UK

The process can take up to 18m and the cost of an application is £4,000

What is submitted for approval could be either:

  • A specific product that contains insect material
  • Insect material ingredients

In the latter scenario, a number of companies that use the same ingredients could benefit from a blanket authority.  They must use essentially identical ingredients, however all complying with common standards.

The dossier of evidence can be very substantial and must include specific laboratory testing (at a recognized laboratory) that shows clearly the key nature of the product/ingredient that would enable a risk assessment to be carried out.  This will include both composition of the insect material plus any contaminants or other materials that might be introduced as a result of the farming method, environment, etc.  There will be significant costs in securing this analysis.

In the former case, if a company has a number of products with different insect materials they will each need individual authorization.

The authorization will specify a given set of restrictions on exactly what is accepted – variety of insect, conditions under which it is farmed, processes of manufacture undertaken, etc..  This will depend on the perception of the variables that could be expected to change the risk profile of the ingredient/product.

Situation regarding the current and new Novel Food Regulations

Companies making products with insect materials could apply right now for Novel Food acceptance.  Not required, however.

Currently any company can manufacture, market and trade food products in the UK that contain whole insects – eg cricket flour.  

From January 2018 it will be required that companies trading with food products containing insect materials submit applications for Novel food recognition, but will still be able to trade during the period during which the application is assessed – can take up to 18m

Particular issues that will affect protein alternatives – particularly food containing insect materials

We had an extensive debate about the fact that a large number of people in the UK (20-25%) are allergic to dust mites and the fact that insect protein will result in an allergic reaction, in some cases potentially very severed in individuals.  There is a need for research to understand the nature of this and how comparable it is to other allergens such as crustaceans, agreed standards for labelling to alert consumers, and post market studies to establish the actual impact on consumers from eating insect products.

The research involved needs to be seen to be independent of the businesses involved.

We were able to secure a commitment from the key member of the committee to find a way to balance the risks and opportunities so that businesses will be able to trade with products including insect material.

This raises many serious issues for the sector and for Woven, in terms of how we can support businesses with this.  One scenario is for Woven to act on behalf of its members and seek a blanket approval for insect ingredients used in a range of individual companies’ products, so that the cost and effort involved can be shared.

We are keen to hear your views!

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FSA Novel Foods Workshop

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Today I attended the FSA workshop on Novel Foods Regulations, with Neil Whippey of Eat Grub.  It was a really useful and informative although we came away with some challenges for the fledgling UK insects for food sector (insects for feed was not in scope).

Full report will follow as an in-depth article for Woven members (see membership offer coming out soon).

A few highlights:

  • There is a £4,000 fee for applying for Novel Food approval and you have to submit one for each individual product that has a distinct risk profile
  • There is scope to secure a blanket approval relating to an ingredient but this would potentially need to be very tightly defined  – this could mean multiple companies securing this together, or Woven acting on their behalf, to share the costs
  • You can trade now and manufacture, market and sell products with whole insect material.  From January 2018 when the new regulations come in you will only be able to continue if you are in the process of working through a Novel Foods application – but this process can take up to 18m and you can trade throughout.
  • The potential for insect materials in foods to cause allergic reactions needs research and careful thought.  Woven will seek to work with its members and the FSA to ensure that the right balance is struck between risks and benefits and we have secured some champions within the FSA and the committee that advises them, with whom we will maintain a positive relationship.

So, definitely a worthwhile event and further signs that Woven Network is going to be critical if this sector is to succeed in the UK.

Nick