While the appetite for edible bugs increases, and start-ups for cricket farms and new products appear regularly, it’s getting to a bit of a crunch point legally. Insects still inhabit a legal grey area, and it remains to be seen how new European Union rules will play out.
For more detail on the situation within the EU see our article Ban them or boost them! The EU’s struggle with edible insects. Yet not all countries in Europe are in the EU, and recently two non-EU states took very different paths: in Switzerland a programme of legalisation saw more than ten species given the stamp of approval; in Iceland the opposite happened.
Video from swissinfo.ch
So let’s start with the good news
Neither an EU nor an European Economic Area member, the Swiss government announced that 2016 would see mealworms, crickets and locusts legalised for human consumption. It’s not a long list, considering just how many insects are out there for consumption – but it’s a step in the right direction. This is similar to Belgium, which legalised ten edible species last year.
Interestingly, the change in Swiss policy came about after entomophagy advocates put on a bug buffet for politicians in Bern as part of their campaign to shift decision-makers towards embracing edible insects.
Unfortunately though, the legal changes rule out ‘disguised’ edible insects. No cricket-powder pasta on the shelves just yet.
So, Iceland: what’s the problem?
Usually considered a permissive country, Iceland made a surprising move in late 2015, pulling the very first edible insect product off supermarket shelves as soon as it got there.
The product in question was Crowbar Protein’s ‘Jungle Bar’ - a chocolate, cranberry and cricket energy snack that made a splash when it far exceeded its Kickstarter goal earlier last year.
The Jungle Bar team. Photo: Crowbar Protein
A local supermarket chain in Iceland agreed to stock the Jungle Bar, much to the delight of founders Stefan Thoroddsen and Bui Adalsteinsson. In January 2016 Thoroddsen was in the supermarket, posing for a picture next to a stack of Iceland’s first ever insect-based food product. Five minutes later, the department of health rang to say the bars all had to be removed from sale.
Thoroddsen and Adalsteinsson were outraged. The government had cited the EU’s 'Novel Food' regulations when banning Jungle Bars, rules which the pair say are “too strict”. They can still sell the bars outside Iceland via their website perfectly legally – but not in their own country.
We cannot get lost in technicalities" – Jungle Bar's Bui Adalsteinsson
BUGSfeed spoke to Adalsteinsson, who insisted that he and Thoroddsen aren’t giving up on their vision for a sustainable food industry. He said: “There’s a long history of entomophagy, mostly outside the EU, that’s been ongoing without raising any concerns regarding safety.
“If we want this change to happen and to allow for new products that could drastically affect [...] greenhouses gasses and food security, we cannot get lost in technicalities.”
The legalisation or otherwise of edible insects will be a huge question in the years to come. Will Novel Foods regulations mean a burden small producers can’t overcome – or a healthy new regulatory framework to clear up confusion? Watch this space...