January 21, 2021
Business Food & Drink Lifestyle Travel

Insect Market To Explode: EU Gives Green Light To Eating Mealworm

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Mealworm burgers have been on sale in Swiss supermarkets since 2017

Mealworm burgers have been on sale in Swiss supermarkets since 2017

AFP via Getty Images

Yellow mealworm is soon to appear on European menus, in bars, smoothies and burgers, after the EU decided that they are safe for human consumption. It’s just the first insect that will be hitting supermarket shelves–the EU is likely to approve others soon.

Plant-based and alternative meat options are not niche products anymore and offer huge investment opportunities–global investment rose from €25.4 million ($31 million) in 2016 to €1.1 billion ($1.3 billion) in 2020.

A sub-section of this is insect-based, for both human and animal consumption, but in the EU, development has been lagging because of a ban on the sale of insects-as-food in most countries.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) today reported that mealworms are safe for human consumption. It’s a breakthrough moment for large companies that produce foods containing insects which have been lobbying the EU to allow the consumption of these products in all European countries–they are currently sold in U.K., Dutch, Belgian, Danish and Finnish supermarkets because these countries interpreted a 1997 law more permissibly than other countries.

The 1997 law said that any food that had not been eaten before that year should be authorised as “novel foods” but countries such as the U.K. decided this law didn’t refer to animals used for food and therefore, they could sell those products.

The UN has been trying to get people to eat more insects for a very long time, since it published its report, Edible Insects, in 2013; many insiders believe that it’s one way of providing enough food for a growing population–insects are a great source of protein. Mealworms provide the same protein, vitamins and minerals as fish or meat whereas grasshoppers have the same protein content as lean ground beef but less fat per gram. The harvesting of insects generally uses far less land than cow pastures with a lower emission of greenhouse gases.

Over 2.5 billion people regularly eat insects as part of their day-to-day diet but often people in western countries regard the idea as “icky”.

The New York Times reported that this is due to environmental factors–Europe doesn’t have big insects, not worth hunting for food, not like in equatorial regions.

Mario Barnard, chef at Gourmet Grubb, a high-end insect food stand in Cape Town, South Africa.

Mario Barnard, chef at Gourmet Grubb, a high-end insect food stand in Cape Town, South Africa.

AFP via Getty Images

However, the “yuk” factor is slowly receding. Insects have been made cool by top chefs; the National Geographic even reported that some chefs are fighting invasive species in the U.S. by cooking them up to eat. Things like lionfish crudo (venomous shellfish found in the waters around Louisiana) and pickled kudzu (a green vine brought in from Japan in 1876, which can grow a foot a day in the southern U.S.).

And the market is just starting to get started in the EU. The major players creating insect-based food for human consumption are Protifarm in the Netherlands, Micronutris in France, Essento in Switzerland and Entogourmet in Spain.

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization entitled How To Feed The World In 2050 states that a growing population and rising incomes means that there is now increased demand for protein and plants, not only for human consumption, but also for the fish, poultry, pigs and livestock that people eat.

Last October, Ÿnsect, a French mealworm company, completed $372 million in funding to build the world’s largest insect farm–the company has now received more investment in total than the entire global insect protein sector has raised to date ($425 million, some of which came from Robert Downey Jr.’s FootPrint Coalition investment company). The 100,000 tons of mealworm which they will produce annually, will be used to supply wet pet food.

There are also many smaller startups on the scene, for example, Exo cricket protein bars from New York, Jimini’s in France, Bugsolutely out of Bangkok, and Insnack in Berlin.

And if it sounds far-fetched, as Sifted reported, twenty years ago European consumers had a particular “yuck” factor around the idea of eating raw fish and now sushi is everywhere.

The only people who might not get along with the new products are those suffering from prawn and dust mite allergies; The Guardian reported that they are likely to suffer a reaction to the Tenebrio molitor larvae, “whether eaten in powder form as part of a recipe or as a crunchy snack, perhaps dipped in chocolate.”