Companies wishing to sell insects as food in the UK have warned they are in limbo due to confusing post-Brexit trade laws.
Ministers have been pressed to update the Food Standards Act to prevent UK traders falling behind their EU counterparts due to a lack of post-Brexit transition provisions when some may be closed.
The growing industry includes frontline grocery stores, meal delivery kit businesses and suppliers to major supermarkets, and had an estimated turnover of £6million in the last last decade.
The Woven Network, a trade body representing edible insect companies, hopes a decision by the Food Standards Agency in June will give them blanket approval for trade across the UK.
But until then they are in limbo, with local food standards officials able to stop companies from selling insect products if they believe they are unsafe to eat.
Maisie Paddon – who had hoped to sell burgers, sausages and bug-based curries through her company Be Bugs at Glastonbury Festival this year – believes this contributed to her inability to trade during the world-famous music event, where competition for food stalls is high.
“We have a five-star hygiene rating, which is great. But, of course, we weren’t surprised when we got our response from Glastonbury,” the Woven Network member told the agency. PA press.
“They must have contacted my local authority, and they (the council) were of the opinion that insects are illegal.”
Aaron Thomas, who runs North London meal kit delivery company Yum Bug, added: “There is always a risk that we may be closed.
“We just had an inspection from our local Environmental Health Officer, but…they might be having a conversation with another EHO or someone higher up in their office who might have a different opinion about insects in general, maybe they didn’t ‘didn’t have that much experience and they said ‘Actually no, I think you should close the business’.”
Difficulties for traders of edible insects began in 2018 when the EU introduced food regulations classifying edible insects as a “novel food”, meaning they had to undergo new safety checks, including UK.
Temporary arrangements were discussed by the bloc to allow traders to sell their bug feeds while permanent trading applications were made.
But when the UK officially left the EU at the start of 2020, no transition was agreed for edible insects, and while mainland traders have since been given the green light, UK traders have not. made.
A decision from the Food Standards Agency that could allow them to trade through the UK on a temporary basis is expected in June.
The Woven Network is also seeking permanent permission to sell food containing crickets and mealworms, and has worked with the European edible insect industry to prove they are safe.
But the evaluation of these applications could take up to 18 months.
Mr Thomas added: “What we hope to see now is that the government implement a new transitional measure which does not prevent us from marketing the species we currently market until a decision is made. .”
Unlike the edible insect industry, a transition has been agreed for certain CBD products classified as “novel foods” to be bought and sold under UK law.
Before new EU food regulations, people could freely eat and market insect products in the UK, and did so “quite legitimately for many years”, according to Nick Rousseau, director of the Woven Network.
He added: “We are totally convinced that they are safe. The FAO, the World Food and Agriculture Organization, says they’re safe, as long as your farming and product development practices don’t introduce contaminants or other risks. edible.”
Perez Ochieng, who runs east London-based store Sacoma Health Foods, added that insects were a sustainable, low-carbon source of protein, and a 2013 UN report promoted insects as a future solution to food scarcity and the climate crisis.
Ms Ochieng said the UK’s aging population could benefit from the nutrition and high protein content of edible insects.
She added: “These are people who, for example, need high-protein nutritional products, and edible insects, for example, are a good ingredient when looking at people who need to build muscle.”
Labor MP Stephen Timms (East Ham) has raised the issue with the Government of a transitional arrangement for edible insects on behalf of Ms Ochieng and her fellow traders.
Mr Timms told PA: “Thriving small businesses are struggling because, unlike the European Union, regulation in the UK has been allowed to fall behind. Hopefully this will be quickly resolved and corrected. “
The government has written to Mr Timms, telling him that a decision on next steps for the edible insect industry “will be taken in due course” by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Michael Wight, head of food safety policy at the FSA, said: “We recognize that edible insects, as part of the alternative protein market, can offer benefits, including for the environment.”
He added: “We work hard to support and advise companies and trade bodies so that they can provide high quality records and evidence for their novel food applications.”