Is it legal to farm insects (for human consumption) in the UK?

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.