As many have discovered, insects can be a delicious, not-at-all-creepy food source that could save us all from a looming global protein deficit. The good news is that the main objection to raising insects for food and livestock feed – that it poses insurmountable chemical and biological health risks – has been tentatively ruled out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which says edible insects appear to pose no more of a chemical or biological hazard than any other form of livestock farming.
In preparing their report, EFSA researchers drew data from peer reviewed scientific studies from France, the Netherlands and Belgium to create a risk profile identifying the potential biological, chemical and environmental hazards associated with farmed insects. According to the report, the presence of these hazards would depend on production methods, the substrate (the food the insects are raised on), the lifecycle stage at which the insects are harvested, the insect species and methods of further processing.
The report also considered the potential hazards if the insects are fed on kitchen waste and animal manure. It found that as long as the substrate does not include protein derived from human waste or ruminants, the presence of abnormal proteins that can cause diseases such as BSE (aka mad cow disease) in cattle is expected to be reduced.
The report concluded that the potential risks of producing, processing and consuming insects as a food source are much the same as other forms of animal husbandry, and the environmental risks are expected to be comparable.
Of course, there are still a lot of uncertainties related to animal and human consumption of insects and the report makes it clear that there just isn’t enough data at this stage to conclusively state that all the risks can be managed. The buildup of chemicals such as heavy metals or arsenic is one possible risk that will need to be studied.
The European Commission will now to review the data and decide whether to go ahead with an EC-funded project, PROteINSECT, which would further examine the safety and viability of farming fly larvae as livestock feed.