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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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BBC Future Food Award

BBC Food and Farming Awards - Featured Image

The BBC have opened nominations for their Food and Farming Awards 2016.

One of the categories is Future Food, where they are looking for:

“…cutting-edge innovation and pioneering work that could influence how the UK’s food will be grown, distributed and sold in future. This award is for an ambitious and ground-breaking idea found within the food supply chain; from initiatives by national retailers and major food and drink manufacturers to new models being put into practice by farmers and producers. We want to hear about the big ideas other food businesses will want to follow. It could be work that deals with sustainability, health, food safety, energy or waste; any initiative which is scalable, commercially viable and applicable to food production and distribution in the UK.”

If this sounds like you, or anyone you know, you can fill in the nomination form here.

Image Credits: BBC