January 2020 Newsletter

Novel Foods

Novel foods in the UK - innovation and safety, sustainable food production and the evolving regulatory landscape

This event in January provided an opportunity to promote the benefits of farmed insects as a novel food/food ingredient and argue for a balanced approach to protecting the consumer. The event focused on the regulations relating to novel foods and how these might change in the light of Brexit.

While there was some speculation and expression of interest in a more flexible and less cautious approach, this has to be balanced with the continued need to protect consumers from risky products entering the market and the benefits of retaining the ability to sell into Europe.

I gave an impassioned presentation about insect protein and the tricky situation the sector finds itself in in the UK, given both the transition from former Novel Food Regulations to the new ones which now require insect material to be explicitly approved, the on-going situation where we are waiting to hear which insect products will be approved by the European Commission (and which of these will only apply to products developed with proprietary processes), and how the UK will diverge from the EU post Brexit in its rulings about Novel Foods.

Clearly there is scope for the UK to become a location that can allow more innovation on the basis of products that are intended for the UK market, and then once they are established and there is a good basis of evidence of their safety, the company could seek approval from the European Commission for approval to enter their market.

This presentation was reported in Food Navigator .com with a headline referring to the safety of insects as food.

A more comprehensive report of the meeting is available in the members section of the Woven-Network website. A .pdf copy of the briefing document for the whole meeting may be ordered for £95 from Westminster Forum Projects

From Novel Foods Team for Government Food Safety Policy

Insects are regulated by the Novel Foods Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 2015/2283). These regulations came into effect on 1 Jan 18. Under the previous Novel Food Regulation (EC 258/97) whole insects (including cricket powder if produced from the whole insect) could be placed on the market in the UK but all other forms of insects were considered novel and needed to be authorised. Under the new regulations (EU) 2015/2283 all insects are considered to be novel foods unless they are one of a very limited number of species that have been commonly consumed within the EU prior to 1997.  We are only aware of one insect – the German cheese mite – with a history of consumption prior to 1997 and therefore all insects marketed in the UK are likely to require authorisation. 
In the UK the species of whole insect that were marketed in the EU before the end of 2017 could continue to be placed on the market until 1 Jan 20 subject to an application for these foods having been submitted by 1 Jan 19. This is due to transition measures in Novel Foods Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 that allow foods that have been legally marketed in the EU prior to the new regulation, to continue to be placed on the market. The transition measures were intended to allow businesses time to comply with the new requirements. As there were different positions across the countries in the EU on the legality of selling insects under the old regulation, this means whether insects can be sold in a particular country will vary. The transition arrangements ended on 31 Dec 19.
Several edible insects are currently going through the authorisation process in the EU. As these were submitted before 1 Jan 19 the transition period is still relevant and in place, but only for those insects currently being assessed. This is in order to give additional time for these applications to reach a conclusion. Insects which are currently being assessed and therefore continue to be allowed to be placed on the market until their specific applications have been completed are: 
Alphitobius diaparinus larvae – lesser mealworm 
Acheta domesticus – house cricket 
Tenebrio molitor – mealworm 
Gyllodes sigallatus – banded or decorated cricket 
Schistocerca gregaria – bird grasshoppers (desert locust) 
Locusta migratoria – migratory locust
Hermetia illucens – black soldier fly 
Other species of insect should no longer be placed on the market until after authorisation has been granted under the Novel Food Regulations (EU) 2015/2283. 
Businesses placing insects on the market are advised to warn consumers that insects may cause reactions in those allergic to dust mites or shellfish. This is because insects contain proteins that are similar to known allergens and these may cause reactions in sensitive individuals. Businesses also need to comply with general food law and hygiene regulations. 

Insect farming around the world

Woven-Network are inviting all insect farmers around the world, whether industrial or backyard, to let us know what they farm and where, so we can assemble them all on a global and UK map of insect farming and related activities.

We have had a very good response from a great many people and have discovered more insect farms by trawling the internet ourselves. The list is incomplete as we know there is much more going on across Belgium, Netherlands, SE Asia and China. We hope to fill those gaps in our knowledge shortly.

If you have not notified us of your insect farm, do please email with your organisation / farm name, the different insects you farm and where you are based, ideally by town, region and country.

From the data collected already: 

Species being farmed

Countries hosting insect farms

UK – 12
Netherlands - 5
Spain - 2
France – 8
Belgium - 2
North Africa
Sub Saharan Africa
South Africa - 2
Ghana - 2
Nigeria - 2
Kenya – 2

Southern America
Costa Rica
Mexico 3

SE Asia
Thailand - 3
Vietnam - 2
Malaysia - 4
Philippines – 2
Singapore – 2
New Zealand
North America
USA - 5
China 3

Agriprotein sequence black soldier fly

In November, AgriProtein Technologies (part of the Insect Technology Group), announced that they have sequenced the genome of the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) across both sexes, and strains from Kenya and South Africa. In addition, miRNA sequencing has been carried out on the four life stages of the fly to create a map of expression across its life. This work has been done in collaboration with the South African National Bioinformatics Institute at the University of the Western Cape.

Celebrity endorsement for Entomorphagy

Just after the new year, Prue Leith appeared in many of the national newspapers with a story that she had enjoyed a meal of insects provided by the Bug Farm in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, and had seen insects eaten where she grew up in Johannesburg. In the Telegraph, Prue Leith was reviewing food trends over the last decade with a single paragraph on entomorphagy. The Daily Mail, the Sun (‘Creepy Crawleith’), Mirror, Standard, Independent, regional papers, and specialist farming publications all carried the part of the article about eating insects. Reading the online comments, the great British public have still to be convinced, and some are very reluctant even to try eating insects.

Practical promotion of edible insects in Zimbabwe

The First African Conference on Edible Insects (#EdibleInsectsAfrica) was staged 14-16 August 2019 in Harare, Zimbabwe, on innovations, research and development on edible insects for transformation of livelihoods in Africa. This was part of AgriFoSe2030, a project to increase food production on existing agricultural land, by transforming practices toward more efficient use of resources. Within Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, a covered marked for edible insects has been constructed under AgriFoSe2030 to improve the presentation and appeal of edible insects to the buyer. The most popular edible insects are wild harvested mopane worms (Gonimbrasia belina), termites (Macrotermes natalensis) and wild harvested crickets. Most of these insects are collected from the land, but local production of crickets is being developed to supply this market. Wild harvested insects suffers competition from birds and lizards as well as the need to travel to collect insects to sell.
 Chinhoyi edible insects market


21-22 February 2020
Tomorrow Festival
STEAM - Museum of the Great Western Railway,  SN2 2EY
A new Swindon 'Tomorrow Festival' aimed at families and young people are celebrating science and engineering with a Bake Off-inspired Big Bug Bake-Off challenge between three Swindon-based special guests, the UK Space Agency, Helen Browning’s Organic, and the National Trust. 

21-22 April 2020
Food and Feed Special Interest Group of The Royal Society of Entomology and ADAS
The Natural History Museum

2-6 June 2020
Insects to feed the world
Québec City, Canada



1. Guidance on regulations on farming insects in Scotland to produce sustainable protein.
– a ‘how-to’ guide on the benefits of becoming an insect farmer in Scotland
Published by Zero Waste Scotland, 10 Jan 20

2. Zhan S, Fang G, Cai M, et al. Genomic landscape and genetic manipulation of the black soldier fly Hermetia illucens, a natural waste recycler. Cell Research 2020; 30: 50-60

The black soldier fly (BSF), Hermetia illucens (Diptera: Stratiomyidae), is renowned for its bioconversion of organic waste into a sustainable source of animal feed. We report a high-quality genome of 1.1 Gb and a consensus set of 16,770 gene models for this beneficial species. Compared to those of other dipteran species, the BSF genome has undergone a substantial expansion in functional modules related to septic adaptation, including immune system factors, olfactory receptors, and cytochrome P450s. We further profiled midgut transcriptomes and associated microbiomes of BSF larvae fed with representative types of organic waste. We find that the pathways related to digestive system and fighting infection are commonly enriched and that Firmicutes bacteria dominate the microbial community in BSF across all diets. To extend its potential practical applications, we further developed an efficient CRISPR/Cas9-based gene editing approach and implemented this to yield flightless and enhanced feeding capacity phenotypes, both of which could expand BSF production capabilities. Our study provides valuable genomic and technical resources for optimizing BSF lines for industrialization.
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