It’s been such a hectic few months here at the Bug Shack that we’ve barely been able to keep you all updated! But while Jenny is in Thailand researching the many joys that international entomophagy has to offer we at home thought we should bring you up to speed!
Way back in October Jenny was invited to a live TV interview and bug-tasting for CBBC Newsround. This a very exciting opportunity to publicise the health and sustainability benefits of eating insects, and all the folk at the BBC were enthusiastic and friendly. Jenny even had someone to do her makeup!
The aim was to discuss new EFSA documentation which came out around the same time, ruling that insects are indeed safe to eat and farm in the EU. The takeaway point for the kids watching at home was that some bugs can and should be eaten, but that you shouldn’t eat them straight out of the garden because you don’t know what the bugs have been eating.
Unfortunately the invitation came at extremely short notice so there was no time to whip up some delicious falafel, muffins, or sausage rolls. Instead we took along some soy-sauce roasted mealworms, and they had some grasshoppers from another company. While these are quite tasty in their own right they do look rather dry and present more of a psychological barrier as they are quite obviously bugs! While the cameramen were up for the challenge the poor presenter Leah found it rather more difficult. In the linked video she makes some quite impressive faces, which doesn’t really bring across a positive message! After sipping some water though she admitted it wasn’t the taste at fault, but the mental barrier of munching on creepy-crawlies.
The Bug Shack had a successful day on Sunday, bringing edible insects to the people of Romsey at their annual Food Fest. Many sausage rolls were eaten, and many first-timers enjoyed the new experience of eating bugs.
The Bug Shack will also be at Bestival on the Isle of Wight (10-13 September), so if you are going to the festival, do stop by the Science Tent to try some bugs and learn about entomophagy (eating insects). We’ll be cooking up a variety of snacks, so festival goers might even be able to dream up their own recipes!
The Bug Shack founder, Dr Jenny Josephs will be hosting ‘The Great British Bug Off’ in the Bestiversity tent during the festival too, so stop by for some fun and food!
Did you know that you might already be eating insects? The food colouring often labelled as carmine is actually made using crushed up cochineal beetles. A lot of things we eat are pretty bizarre. Take for instance the ice cream flavouring which is made from beaver secretions (it comes out next to their anal glands). Who invented that one?! If it tastes good though…
Here is a nice infographic from FoodPackagingLabels.Net on 14 bizarre ingredients hidden in your food labels. They also provide tips and advice on food labelling, which you can find on their website.
I was uncertain for a long time about whether or not it was legal to farm insects for human consumption in the UK. It’s hard to find a yes/no answer to that, so I thought I’d find out for myself. Here’s the short version:
Is it legal to sell insects in the UK for human consumption? Yes, certain species.
Is it legal to farm insects in the UK for human consumption? Yes, for now.
Is it legal to farm insects for animal feed in the UK? No, not for land animals; it is allowed for fish.
I recently got in touch with the FSA (Food Standards Agency), DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and my local council to find out the specifics of whether or not it is legal or not to farm insects in the UK for human consumption. Here’s a summary of what they told me.
Selling insects for food
We know that insects are allowed to be eaten in the UK, since they’re already in the shops, but are all insects allowed? Do they have to be tested? The general consensus is that it’s fine, as long as they’ve been eaten here to a significant degree before 1997.
FSA said: It is worth noting that insects and other whole animals are currently exempt from the scope of the Novel Food Regulation, Regulation (EC) 258/1997, which covers the safety of new foods and processes. However, this situation is likely to change with future amendments to the Regulation, resulting in insects that are currently marketed as foods in EU Member States requiring a novel food safety assessment unless they have been consumed to a significant degree before 15 May 1997.
Which insects are allowed?
You can find at least a dozen species of insects being sold in the UK. Mealworms, crickets and their kin are largely tolerated. I found a Belgian page which lists 10 species that are agreed and tolerated.
The FSA said: There is nothing in legislation prohibiting the sale/supply of insects for human food as long as they are safe to eat. And that food must not be injurious to health or unfit for human consumption.
You can read a bit more about which countries are allowing edible insects at 4ento.com.
Farming insects for food
The regulation on farming insects for food in the UK is a little confusing. I’m often told that a certified slaughterhouse is required for insect farming, yet there don’t seem to be any official guides on what that might be (unofficially, the insects are cooled into a state of sleep and then frozen). This confusion seems to be due to welfare and safety issues specifically tied to farming for human food; there are already large insect farms in the UK who provide insects both live and dried. We are allowed to feed live insects to birds and reptiles.
I asked: It seems that under EU Regulation (853/2004) meat must be slaughtered in a registered slaughterhouse, but that regulations for animal slaughter apply to vertebrates (1099/2009), so insects are excluded from this regulation.
Does that mean it is legal to breed insects and kill them for human consumption, without the need of a registered slaughterhouse?
The FSA told me that the important things are i) avoiding contamination by using hygiene rules and basic record keeping and ii) have in place HACCP safety procedures (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points).
I was also advised that I would need to contact the Environmental Health Department (EHD) 28 days before I intend to trade, as they are responsible for making inspections on businesses.
So, essentially, it is allowed. I imagine specific rules and regulations for insect farming will come into place in the coming months, but for now, best diligence is all that is required.
Farming insects for animal feed
In the EU it’s not currently legal to feed insects to animals that will be eaten by humans, in part due to the BSE crisis of the 90’s. It’s believed that regulations will change to allow this at some point this year (2015). Research is ongoing to determine which types of food are safe to feed to feed-insects (e.g. grain, abattoir waste or manure). European regulations changed in recent years to allow us to feed insects to fish that are bred for human consumption.
Dr Jenny Josephs, founder of The Bug Shack has been invited to talk about edible insects at TEDx Southampton University. She will also be hosting a breakout session where visitors can try some delicious bug snacks and ask questions about entomophagy. You can book tickets from the Nuffield Theatre website.
We will also be joining the Southampton University Sustainability Day on Friday 8th May; more details to come.
The Bug Shack will also be hosting a stall at Environmental Rock and serving up several tasty insect treats! Our stall was really popular last year, but we’re going to make it even better for 2015.
When we arrived for our stall at the Southampton Sustainability Festival today, the organisers told us how excited they were to see what food we had brought along. It’s always great to speak to people who are enthusiastic!
A lot of people who came to the stall had never tried bugs before. Some were nervous, but they told us that the roasted mealworms tasted a bit like crisps or nuts.
The sausage rolls are 50% pork, 50% mealworm, but they taste just like regular sausage rolls!
A couple who visited the stall told us that they eat mopane worms in their home country, but they were unsure about trying something new. It was nice when they came back later on to buy some Thai buffalo worm fritters, and gave us a thumbs up!
People say that when we eat things like beef or pork we avoid using their animal names, so that we can forget what it is we are eating. This also extends to product packaging. We don’t often see a cow on our beef burgers or a pig on our sausages.
This isn’t always true. Here’s a sandwich I picked up from Waitrose. I only noticed afterwards that it had a picture of a pig on the side (and the front, and the back). What about chicken, and fish? Those are also named after the animals that make the meat.
I’m not sure whether insects will be hidden in food, or renamed.
I guess it depends on how high quality or high welfare the products are.
I think that sometimes retailers use the high quality status of the animal to promote the meat.
Currently, insects in the UK are expensive to buy and are bought mainly by people who actively seek out new foods and more environmentally friendly ways to eat. We want to know that insects are in our food, that’s what we’re paying for!
There was an article today on the BBC telling us that drug resistant infections will kill more people than cancer in 2050.
Part of the reason for this increase is the over use of antibiotics for both humans and animals.
A team of researchers are discussing what can be done to prevent catastrophe in the coming years. Their response was to look at:
- how drug use could be changed to reduce the rise of resistance
- how to boost the development of new drugs
- the need for coherent international action concerning drug use in humans and animals
Antibiotics are widely given to farm animals as a preventative measure. This helps to keep our animals healthy and the price of meat low. But are our farming practices contributing to the rise in drug resistant bacteria?
As mentioned in my last post, there is no need for antibiotics in insect farming. If we could encourage a change in meat consumption habits, perhaps we could slow the bacteria problem, giving scientists more time to develop new or better drugs.
Interestingly, the problem is a global one; we are a species that travels internationally, so resistant bacteria in one part of the world can easily spread to somewhere entirely new. If a change in food choice is part of the solution, then the problem remains that cattle will inevitably be intensively farmed and pumped with antibiotics in a different part of the world. As with many of life’s problems, there is never one simple solution!