Grubs up: mealworms get the nod
The European Food Safety Authority has deemed yellow mealworms safe for human consumption, potentially paving the way for future approvals around the world.
In Australia, there are many native edible insects, which Indigenous Australians have eaten for tens of thousands of years. However, currently only introduced species, such as the Achetta domesticus species of cricket, are legal to farm and sell for human consumption.
The United Nations estimates the global edible insect market will be worth $8 billion in a mere 10 years’ time, and this latest approval only reinforces market expectations for the insect industry. While this particular announcement only concerns the whole insect for the moment, the new assessment is a key step for the overall insect sector towards selling insect ingredients, which represents the largest and most promising human food market segment in terms of value and volumes, especially in sports and health nutrition, but also in other areas such as pet food and livestock feed.
When combined with fibre, minerals, probiotics and fatty acids, insect proteins can be particularly beneficial for athletes, as well as for people concerned about their health and fitness. Interest in this category is huge, due in part to the fact that insects are completely natural and a less processed alternative to many current sports and health food offerings.
There are also potential health benefits to eating insects. A 2019 German study found that mice showed a dramatic reduction in cholesterol when fed insect meal. Another US study that fed a group of people a breakfast of muffins and shakes made from cricket meal for two weeks found that crickets could help to support the growth of good gut bacteria, while also reducing inflammation in the gut and intestines.
Insects’ high protein content makes them a highly digestible, premium ingredient that can be used as a supplement for digestive diseases, and also as nutrition for older people. Insects are also lower in calories and fat than some other protein sources, making them a potentially effective way to combat obesity. Edible insects could also help to address the global problems of food insecurity and malnutrition – insects are not only energy-dense and high in protein, they’re also relatively cheap and to produce quickly and efficiently.
In order to feed the planet by 2050 – when our population is expected to hit 10 billion – humans must produce 70 percent more food using only five percent extra available land. This makes it essential that we develop alternative food systems to support this growing need. Farming insects requires a great deal less land and water, and produces far less greenhouse gases than the farming of traditional protein sources such as beef.