By Ricardo Carvajal –
People have been eating insects for thousands of years, and the practice certainly has its devotees in the U.S. Notwithstanding that history of consumption, industrial production of insects for food use has remained a rarity. Now there are signs of a push to bring insect production and consumption into the mainstream. Recently, a team from McGill University was awarded the million-dollar Hult Prize for a business plan focused on marketing of crickets as food – and that team is not the only venture trying to crack the cricket market.
The Food and Agriculture Organization ("FAO") has lent its voice to the cause with a fascinating report issued earlier this year titled “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security.” The report discusses in detail the nutritional and other benefits of entomophagy (there – we used the “e” word). However, the report cites a lack of regulatory clarity as a barrier to establishing a market for insect-derived foods:
Unclear regulations and legislation on farming and selling insects for human consumption and feed are an obstacle. For example, in the United States, the FDA’s Food Defect Action Levels lists allowable percentages of insect fragments in food, yet insects as food do not seem to fall into any category. In the EU, the European Novel Food Regulation, which regulates food and ingredients that were not used for human consumption to a significant degree prior to 15 May 1997, restricts the trade of insects, even if they are consumed in other countries. (Citations omitted)
Whatever the case in the EU, we think the observation that insects don’t fall into any category in the U.S. misses the mark. To the extent that insects are used for food, they are food, and thereby subject to the applicable adulteration and misbranding provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Put succinctly, the U.S. food regulatory system is both robust and flexible enough to accommodate at least some of our six-legged friends – and we might eat to that.