The European Commission (EC) asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to assess the microbiological, chemical and environmental risks arising from the production and consumption of insects as food and feed and to cover the main steps from the production chain up to consumption by pets, food producing animals and humans. EFSA was requested to provide an overall conclusion based on the above assessment, on the potential risks posed by the use of insects in food and feed, relative to such risks posed by the use of other protein sources used in food or feed.
In agreement with the EC, this opinion has the format of a risk profile including considerations of hazards associated with insects as food and feed, placed in the context of hazards associated with other sources of protein. The mandate also considers potential risks arising from importation of insects and products of insects from countries outside the EU, but not the importation of live insects. Health or welfare of insects, hazards related to insects harvested from the wild, nutritional value of insects as food and feed and occupational hazards are outside the scope of this opinion.
This opinion is based on data from peer reviewed scientific literature, assessments performed at Member State level and information from relevant stakeholders that were invited to provide information as hearing experts at a working group meeting. All data and information are compiled in the format of a risk profile. The risk profile addresses biological hazards (bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, prions), chemical hazards (heavy metals, toxins, veterinary drugs, hormones and others) as well as allergens and hazards related to the environment.
It is concluded that for both biological and chemical hazards, the specific production methods, the substrate used, the stage of harvest, the insect species, as well as the methods used for further processing will all have an impact on the possible presence of biological and chemical contaminants in insect food and feed products.
The opinion addresses the potential occurrence of hazards in non-processed insects, grown on different substrate groups, in comparison to the occurrence in other non-processed sources of protein of animal origin.
When currently allowed feed materials are used as substrate to feed insects, the possible occurrence of microbiological hazards is expected to be comparable to their occurrence in other non-processed sources of protein of animal origin. The possible occurrence of prions in non-processed insects will depend on whether the substrate includes protein of human or ruminant origin. Data on transfer of chemical contaminants from different substrates to the insects are very limited. Other relevant substrates and the possible occurrence of hazards are considered and summarised in the opinion. Substrates like human and animal manure are also considered. For both biological and chemical hazards their possible occurrence in non-processed insects fed on such substrates needs to be specifically assessed.
The environmental risk of insect farming is expected to be comparable to other animal production systems. Insect waste may contain insects and insect material. The adoption of existing waste management strategies should be applicable for managing waste from insect production. Assessment of the individual production systems will determine the precise strategy to be adopted on a case by case basis.
The opinion also notes the knowledge gaps and uncertainty related to possible hazards when insects are used as food and feed and concludes that there are no systematically collected data on animal and human consumption of insects. Also, there are only a few studies on the occurrence of microbials potentially pathogenic for vertebrates as well as published data on hazardous chemicals in reared insects.
Further research for better assessment of microbiological and chemical risks from insects as food and feed including studies on the occurrence of hazards when using particular substrates, like food waste and manure is recommended.