Insects approved for human consumption


A ruling by Belgium's food chain safety agency means adventurous eaters can officially make a meal of worms and other creepy-crawlies

Belgium's federal food safety agency has approved a list of 10 insects for human consumption. What do you think?

Antwerp breeder leading the way

It’s official: We are free to put insect paste on our bread or cook worm hamburgers for supper. A few days before Christmas, Belgium's Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) published a long-awaited list of 10 insects that are now approved for human consumption. According to experts, all are “delicious” and “nutty-tasting”.

Entomophagy, or the eating of bugs, is widely regarded as one of the most promising solutions to increasing environmental pressure, worldwide food insecurity and the rising cost of animal protein. Edible insects, which require minimal space to breed and produce no greenhouse gases, are 40 to 70% protein. (Corn, in comparison, is only 10%.)

While the EU is yet to come out with a clear position on eating insects, Belgium has taken the lead and legalised its own list of 10, making it the first European country where the consumption of insects is officially allowed. The list includes larvae of mealworms, superworms, the African grasshopper, American desert locust and specific subspecies of crickets and beetles. Retailers who want to put insects on the market first have to be registered with FASFC and abide by all applicable rules concerning hygiene, traceability and labelling.

There are currently only five people in the country breeding insects for human consumption. Antwerp-based Peter De Baptist is the only one who is licensed to distribute and sell them as food. He has long been lobbying for large-scale consumption and acted as a consultant in the drafting of the list.

“Breeding insects has 10 times less impact on the environment than the breeding of cows and pigs,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “Plus, they are very healthy. Apart from carbohydrates, insects contain everything we need to keep our immune system up and running: protein, not less than 14 vitamins, fatty acids and minerals.”

Additionally, according to De Baptist, most insects are delicious. Raw mealworm larvae taste like hazelnut; when heated they miraculously turn pistachio-flavoured. African grasshopper, depending on the method of preparation, can taste like walnut, bacon or chicken. There is just one thing standing in the way of mass consumption: widespread public distaste. While more than 80% of the world’s population eats insects and humans have been eating bugs for as long as they’ve existed, most Europeans are put off by the sight of grilled beetles on a plate. “There is a need for a change of mentality,” says De Baptist. “Insects are not scary.”