Edible insects are a new phenomenon in the West, and as a result they are rarely regulated. This leads to public institutions like food agencies, customs and health departments often finding themselves helpless in the face of new product development based on processed insects.
There are three legal trends concerning a geographical point of view. First, there are the “Anglo-Saxon” countries: UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, for whom edible insects do not represent a novel food, and the food agencies have authorized import and sales.
Then there are the non-English-speaking Western countries, and the European Union, in particular, which expressed the need to have rules and provide approvals before allowing any marketing.
Non-Western countries comprise the remaining trend: there, insects are often a traditional food, but rarely packaged and exported or imported.
In these countries, customs and the FDA had never found themselves facing packaged products containing insects, as insects were usually found in the local market, unpackaged.
In addition, there is the matter of food legislation, which is often lacking industry standards for insect foods. In particular, insects are not included in the Codex Alimentarius, which contains an international guideline for food safety.
In 2015, the European Parliament decided that insects belong to the “novel foods” category, and consequently are subject to lengthy approval processes. From January 2018, the new Novel Food law is in place, and the application is supposed to be simplified. Timeframe is expected to be around one year for approving a request and House Crickets and mealworms are supposed to be among the first request to be received by the EU. Once a species is approved, all the products containing it can be marketed in all the EU country. In other words, once the food—for example, the house cricket—is approved, it is for everyone’s benefit, including the producers and importers.
Five countries did not accept the 2015 decision of the EU and since then has permitted—and in some case, regulate—the marketing and consumption of insects. Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland.
The EU asked these countries to follow the EU rules from January 2018, but also allowed them a transitional period of 12 months, ending on January 2019. During the transitional period, insects that were sold in those countries can still be on the shelves.
For years, the Food Safety Agency has shown a favourable position on the sale, consumption and import of edible insects. Britain also considers edible insects outside the context of the European regulation on novel foods.
The future is uncertain, though, because of Brexit. According to an email of the British food agency, they will for now adhere to the transitional period: until January 2019, insect species sold in the past can stay on the market.