SGS Informs on Edible Insects as Novel Food and Worldwide Human Consumption

Already popular in some regions, edible insects for human consumption, are increasingly seen as a key part of the food supply chain solution.

Fairfield, NJ, May 04, 2015 –(– Population growth around the world is exerting unprecedented pressure on global food production. Edible insects for human consumption, are increasingly seen as a key part of the food supply solution.

FAO Reports on Edible Insects

The nutritional value of edible insects, understood in many cultures, has long been overlooked as a source of sustainable proteins. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) has stated that consumers and the food supply chain needs to include alternate sources of food, such as edible insects, if a food supply is to be maintained and increased to meet the ever-growing demand. Large-scale increases in traditional farming are not a realistic prospect, according to the FAO’s report Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. Practical considerations such as water scarcity and limits on farm expansion make conventional solutions unsustainable.

Edible Insects – An Alternate Food Source

Edible insects are a highly nutritious and healthy food source. This may be a sector in its infancy, but insects are not a “famine food” eaten only as a food of last resort when conventional foods are scarce. In many countries, insects are eaten out of preference and have a rich history in local food cultures. However, though the nutritional value of edible insects may not be in doubt, global consumer demand for them is not quite as apparent.

Commercial Insect Farming

To date, most edible insects are harvested in the wild, serving local markets. Insect farming is not unknown, but in the case of bees and silkworms, for example, they are more associated with the production and harvest of other products (honey and silk). Other insects also have a tradition of being farmed for biological control and health reasons.

Commercial farming of insects for food is an ongoing project. Some commercial scale producers do exist, but they are not very common. Food and food safety regulation is not yet up to speed with the industry interest in this market.

Regulatory Compliance: Edible Insects or Food Contamination?

One of the biggest hurdles farmers face is a lack of supportive legislation/regulation. Generally, legislative references to insects in food and feed prescribe maximum limits for their presence in more conventional foodstuffs. This reflects a desire to protect food products from intentional or accidental contamination with insects, and the very limited development of insect farming on a commercial scale.

CODEX Alimentarius has no specific standards for fresh or processed insects for use as food or feed. It does however include them, in places, as impurities.

At a regional level, the regulatory landscape is more varied. In Europe, the preparation and production of insects for human consumption is a covered by its EU Novel Food Regulation, EC 258/97. This defines a ‘novel food’ as food and food ingredients not habitually consumed in the EU prior to 1997.

Elsewhere, the driving force behind the development of rules and standards for the edible insects sector is industry demand. In 2010, Laos unsuccessfully proposed the development of standards for regional trade and food safety guidance for house crickets.

Classification of Novel Foods

When classifying novel foods, it is important to reflect on the cultural differences between countries. Novel foods may be considered globally, but where they are derived from natural products, such as insects, while they are novel in some countries, in others they may form part of traditional diets.

Edible Insect Safety

Food processors involved in the edible insect sector are already working within the food safety frameworks associated with more conventional foods. Production facilities adhere to schemes such as GMP and HACCP, applying the same hygiene and safe production principles as for more mainstream products. To ensure product quality and safety, the food industry is investing in edible insect safety assessments as well as third party food testing (

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SGS Consumer Testing Services
Jim Cook
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SGS North America, Inc.