The decision means dried yellow mealworms could soon be on the menu as a proposal to class them as a “novel food” was given the go-ahead. Earlier this year the EU’s food safety agency published a scientific opinion that concluded worms were safe to eat. Experts said the insects, either eaten whole or in powdered form, are a rich source of protein.
In a plan to reassure fussy consumers, EU officials have suggested they could be used to provide protein boosts for cookies, pasta or baked goods.
And they claimed breeding insects for food would have significant environmental benefits over rearing cattle and other regular protein sources.
The market for edible insects is expected to reach some £3.3 billion by 2027, according to a report published by Meticulous Research earlier this year.
Some 11 other insect foods are awaiting safety evaluation and approval from the EU.
The European Commission said: “It is up to consumers to decide whether they want to eat insects or not.
“The use of insects as an alternate source of protein is not new and insects are regularly eaten in many parts of the world.”
In a statement, the EU’s executive added: “Insects as food emerge as an especially relevant issue in the twenty-first century due to the rising cost of animal protein, food insecurity, environmental pressures, population growth and increasing demand for protein among the middle classes.
“Thus, alternative solutions to conventional livestock need to be found. The consumption of insects, therefore, contributes positively to the environment and to health and livelihoods.”
Edible insects sold across the EU will come with special labelling and will come with allergy warnings.
Allergic reactions may occur for people with pre-existing allergies to crustaceans and dust mites, the Commission said.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says insects are a “healthy and highly nutritious food source with a high content of fat, protein, vitamins, fibres and minerals”.
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Researchers said: “In May 2020, considering that the virus was transmitted from animals, Wuhan’s municipal government banned breeding, hunting, and consuming wild animals for five years.
“This is expected to trigger restrictions on the consumption of certain animals and related products across various cities and countries across the world.
“This further will increase the shortage of meat products and accelerate the demand for alternative substitutes like edible insects and plant-based products.”