Novel Foods: newly developed foods, i.e. foods produced using new technologies and exotic products, including insects, which can only be imported from outside the European Union. These products were not sold in the Netherlands until ten years ago. The consumption of these novel foods, including various insect species such as crickets, mealworms and locusts, is becoming increasingly popular with consumers.
Nowadays, it is not therefore strange to see an increasing number of products containing insects on supermarket shelves. Insects contain many nutritious ingredients and the production of these food sources is sustainable compared with meat and therefore less harmful to the environment. This means that the consumption and production of insects and other novel foods is on the rise and is therefore becoming an attractive investment.
Is insect farming permitted?
Despite the fact that the market for farming insects is very attractive on paper, it is unclear to farmers what the rules are exactly. The reason for this is that the farming and sale of insects for human consumption in the Netherlands and the European Union is not freely permitted. This has to do with the fact that products intended for human consumption must satisfy strict health requirements. Before a product can be sold as food on the European market, it has to be approved. No final position has yet been adopted as to whether insect farming should be possible at European level and subject to what conditions.
Regulation (EC) 258/97 concerning the approval of the sale of novel foods within the European Union has been in force since 1997. The purpose of this Regulation is to protect consumers from consuming unsafe foods. This Regulation does not make it clear whether insects are to be considered novel foods and fall within the scope of the Regulation. This has resulted in a situation where insect farming is not covered by any specific legislation.
The Regulation has been updated to take account of the considerable technological advances in the food industry: Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 on novel foods entered into force on 1 January 2018. Applications and approvals for novel foods are expected to be processed more quickly and efficiently under the new Regulation. Insects are regarded as novel foods in this new legislation, with the result that they fall within the scope of the Regulation.
The European Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to study the safety of insects and issue an opinion on the subject. The opinion was published on 8 October 2017. The purport of this opinion is that insects are a sustainable and nutritious source of protein. The EFSA subsequently has a positive attitude towards the use of insects as food. The study into the risks to consumers is therefore being continued. Based on the results of the study, consideration will be given to the possibility of approving insects as food under the Regulation.
Insect farming in the Netherlands
Together with Belgium and France, the Netherlands is at the forefront in the area of insect farming. In anticipation of possible approval at European level, the Netherlands commissioned a study into the use of insects as food in 2014. The study was conducted by the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) and described the health risks involved in the consumption of farmed insects. The NVWA has set conditions on the basis of which the farming and consumption of insects will not constitute a health risk. The sale of insects for human consumption is permitted in the Netherlands, provided that permission has been granted in advance by the NVWA and a thorough inspection has been conducted.
What does this mean for insect farmers?
Insects have not yet been officially approved as food at European level. In all probability, a final position on whether or not this food is to be approved will be adopted on completion of the study commissioned by the European Commission.
Until then, farming will be permitted in the Netherlands subject to conditions set by the NVWA. In this case, it should be borne in mind that applications to the NVWA will take time and be assessed for each individual farmer. It is also as well to be aware that an approval for farming and sale in the Netherlands does not mean that export to other EU countries will automatically be permitted. This is because different regulations apply in each member state to the farming of insects for human consumption. Not every member state permits this.
To summarise: there is not yet a fully open market for the farming and sale of insects. This does not appear to be far off in view of the recent developments at European level. We will keep you informed of any legal developments in this regard.