Bugging out: EU approves beetle larvae as food

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A person holds dry mealworms, larval form of the mealworm beetle, in Saint-Ignat, central France, in May last year. AFP

More insects are on their way to dinner plates in Europe under an agreement between EU countries to label them "innovative food" that is safe to eat, the European Commission said Tuesday.

The endorsement means the 27-nation bloc is close to adopting an EU law allowing residents and visitors to tuck into a dish featuring dried yellow mealworm, the larva of the mealworm beetle, Tenebrio molitor.

"The use of insects as an alternate source of protein is not new and insects are regularly eaten in many parts of the world," the commission noted, announcing the decision.

It added that yellow mealworm must be labelled clearly as such when used in a food product, not least to alert people who might be allergic.

The insect can be used to make burgers, protein shakes and biscuits.

The commission said there are currently 11 other applications for insects to become "novel food" in the EU and they will be considered by the European Food Safety Authority.

The decision on yellow mealworms is expected to be formally adopted in coming weeks, the commission said.

While it noted that this is the first time an insect was being authorised as food in the EU, the commission did say that insects had previously been available for consumption in some member states.

But that was before a 2018 update to the EU regulation on novel foods that requires whole insects to be subject to approval.

Researchers have for years observed the high protein value of yellow mealworms, which contain required fat and amino acids. The larva can grow quickly in a variety of substances including brewer's yeast, wheat bran, corn starch and potato flour.

They have already long been found in food markets in Southeast Asian countries.