Insects as Novel Food in the European Union – Assessing their Safety 

On 1 June 2021, the European Commission authorised the placing of dried yellow mealworms on the European Union (EU) market, following the positive vote of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF Committee) on the respective draft legal act. The approval was based on an earlier scientific opinion by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the competent body for the safety assessment of Novel Foods in the EU. 

Novel Foods are “foods or ingredients that have not been used for human consumption to a significant degree in the EU before 15 May 1997”. Novel Foods can be newly synthesised/isolated compounds, foodstuffs produced using new technologies, products derived from new sources or foods traditionally consumed in non-EU countries.  

The assessment of the  first insect-derived Novel Food, the “dried yellow mealworm” (Tenebrio molitor larva), was carried out in accordance with the scientific principles described in the respective guidance document published by EFSA. The body of evidence assessed comprised of information on the identity of the Novel Food, its production process, its compositional profile (chemical, physicochemical, nutritional and microbiological data), as well as allergenicity aspects. Moreover, the history of use of the Novel Food and its source, the proposed uses, use levels and anticipated intake, and toxicological studies were evaluated as part of the safety assessment of this product.  

“As the scientific officer coordinating this assessment on behalf of EFSA, I can confirm that the safety assessment of insects and products thereof requires a multifaceted combination of scientific expertise in areas such as chemistry, toxicology, microbiology, and nutrition. The contribution of the science of chemistry in such safety assessments is pivotal, especially when evaluating the compositional profile of these products. Similarly to the safety evaluation of other Novel Foods, qualitative and quantitative datasets were assessed, using expertise in food chemistry, biochemistry, and analytical chemistry.  

So far, EFSA has received 17 insect-related Novel Food applications, out of which 2 have been finalised, 11 are under safety assessment, and 4 are subject to a suitability check before entering the assessment process. The insect species Acheta domesticus, Locusta migratoria, Gryllodes sigillatus, Tenebrio molitor, Alphitobius diaperinus, Hermetia illucens and Apis mellifera are among the sources of these novel food products. 

Ermolaos Ververis
Scientific Officer, Nutrition Unit
European Food Safety Authority