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Yellow Mealworms Deemed Safe for Human Consumption by EFSA

By Tyler, Global Vegans


Bug-based protein is set to shake up the meat alternative industry over the next few years.

Earlier this month, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) deemed yellow mealworms safe for human consumption. This could soon allow supermarkets and restaurants in EU countries to sell everything from mealworm burgers to mealworm pasta dishes.

The EFSA authorised the consumption of yellow mealworms following an application from French-based biotech company Agronutris, which rears mealworms, crickets and black soldier flies for organic fertilisers and pet nutrition products.

Following the EFSA’s conclusion, we can expect to see a boom in insect farming across the continent. Companies such as Entogourmet, Protifarm and Micronutris are already eyeing up the opportunity to sell farmed insect food products commercially throughout the EU and are accelerating production processes in preparation to do so.

Insects are already sold in the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Belgium, despite an EU-wide law stating that any products not eaten by humans before 1997 must receive novel food authorisation before being prepared and sold commercially.

In the UK, eating insects has become a much more widely accepted idea over the last decade, with popular restaurant chain Wahaca making crickets part of its menu in 2015.

One of the driving forces behind the expansion of the insect food market is the nutritional profile of bugs like grasshoppers and black soldier flies. Insects are protein and fibre-rich but low in fat, with grasshoppers offering more protein than beef and all nine essential amino acids.

It is currently more expensive to buy edible insects than other farmed animal products, but this is expected to change as attitudes towards eating insects shift and demand for bug-based protein increases.

Entomophagy is on the rise in the UK and across Europe as start-ups look for environmentally-friendly alternatives to animal agriculture practices, spurred by the rapid growth in high and middle-income countries. The world is finally acknowledging that we cannot continue down the path of farming and slaughtering billions of animals every year to satisfy global appetites.

Yet, it’s disheartening to see how much time and money is being directed away from one form of animal exploitation and towards another. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, given that many people consume and wear products containing insect-derived ingredients already, with honey, silk and carmine being three of the most obvious examples.

While it’s largely accepted that eating insects isn’t vegan, entomophagy has been heralded as a way to reduce global demand for and reliance upon non-insect animal agriculture. This includes the slaughtering of cows, pigs, poultry and fish.

Additionally, the breeding, feeding and processing of insects (such as yellow mealworms) requires only a fraction of the natural resources that traditional animal agriculture uses. Insect farming also produces fewer carbon emissions, in addition to using significantly less land and water.

According to Environment Journal, one kilo of insect protein produces 1gm of greenhouse gases, whereas one kilo of beef produces 2.85kgs. Statistics like these have encouraged many environmentalists to view insects as the key to feeding the Earth’s expanding population more sustainably.

What’s more, insects such as the yellow mealworm can be fed a primarily plant-based diet of wheat flour and other grains. Consequently, replacing cow, pig and chicken rearing for insect farming could see a decline in the demand for harmful soybean production and exportation.

We can also expect to see the insect market tap into the pet food sector, which is responsible for a quarter of the total environmental devastation of meat production. This trend has already gained traction, with leading cat and dog nutrition brand Purina launching a line of pet food products containing black soldier fly larvae protein.

It seems clear that society will go to almost any length to avoid plant-based lifestyles in favour of eating living creatures, even if that does mean eating bugs. Insects are often boiled, crushed, frozen or fried to death, and the full extent to which they experience pain and distress is not yet known.

What we do know is that every sentient creature would prefer to live than end up on our plates, so with that in mind, we’ll continue to choose beans over bugs.

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