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EU grapples with use of insects as food & feed

Insects with high potential for food use in the EU: house flies, mealworms, crickets and silkworms

A Dutch supermarket chain sells insect burgers and nuggets, a Belgian supermarket chain offers burgers with buffalo worms, and vegetable spreads made with mealworms, and in the UK, bags of whole mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers are sold.

Yet, according to a briefing by the European Parliament Members’ Research Service, the use of insects for food is not currently ‘precisely’ regulated in the EU and there are no safety assessments done according to the rules required by the EU’s current novel foods regulation on any insects used as a food ingredient.

While most Member States have so far prohibited the use of insects as food, and the use of processed insects from which parts (e.g. legs, wings or head) have been removed, is forbidden, the Member States have different interpretations as to whether this applies to whole insects, and some are more tolerant than others, the service said in the paper.

However, under a European Commission proposal to update the novel foods regulation, insects would be explicitly brought under that law. The Commission asked for advice from EFSA in order to assess the safety aspects of edible insects and EFSA’s scientific opinion was published on October 8.

In its response, EFSA provided a risk profile identifying the potential biological and chemical hazards as well as allergenicity and environmental hazards associated with the use of farmed insects as food and feed. In a Scientific Opinion, it compared these potential hazards with those associated with mainstream sources of animal protein.

Insects with high potential for food use in the EU: houseflies, mealworms, crickets and silkworms.

Among other things, EFSA’s scientific experts said that the possible presence of biological and chemical hazards in food and feed products derived from insects would depend on the production methods, what the insects are fed on (substrate), the lifecycle stage at which the insects are harvested, the insect species, and the methods used for further processing.

As background, EFSA said that Insects represent a niche food market in the EU, with several Member States reporting occasional human consumption. “Nonetheless, the use of insects as a source of food and feed potentially has important environmental, economic and food security benefits. The insect species reported to have the greatest potential for use as food and/or feed in the EU include houseflies, mealworms, crickets and silkworms.

A number of organisations – including the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) – have studied the possibility of using insects for food and feed, and three EU Member States – Belgium, France and the Netherlands – have performed risk assessments related to insects as food or feed.

The European Commission is currently co-financing a research project to explore the feasibility of using insect protein for feed. The Commission is also considering how to develop policy in the areas of novel foods and animal feed to reflect the potential use of insects as food and feed. EFSA’s Scientific Opinion was requested to support this work,” it said.


1. “Mealworm 01 Pengo” by Pengo – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
2. “Chapulines” by Meutia Chaerani / Indradi Soemardjan – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons

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EU keeping a closer eye on the food contaminant perchlorate

High levels of the contaminant perchlorate have been found in Cucurbitaceae and leaf vegetables especially those grown in glasshouse/under cover.

The presence of the contaminant perchlorate in vegetables, fruit and other foods is to be monitored in the EU, following a recommendation by the European Commission.

The Commission says more data is needed on the occurrence of the residue in food in Europe – especially in vegetables, infant formula, milk and dairy products –– to improve the accuracy of risk assessments.

“High levels have been found in Cucurbitaceae and leaf vegetables especially those grown in glasshouse/under cover,” it said.

It said perchlorate occurs naturally in the environment, but also as an environmental contaminant arising from the use of nitrate fertilisers and from the manufacture, use and disposal of ammonium perchlorate used in rocket propellants, explosives, fireworks, flares and air-bag inflators and in other industrial processes. Perchlorate can also be formed during the degradation of sodium hypochlorite used to disinfect water and can contaminate the water supply. “Water, soil and fertilisers are considered to be potential sources of perchlorate contamination in food.”

In its opinion on the risks for public health related to the presence of perchlorate in food, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (Contam Panel) concluded that chronic dietary exposure to perchlorate is of potential concern, in particular for the high consumers in the younger age groups of the population with mild to moderate iodine deficiency. Furthermore, it is possible that short-term exposure to perchlorate is of concern for breast-fed infants and young children with low iodine intake, it warned.

In a statement on the presence of perchlorate in food, the Commission Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety acknowledged that “divergent approaches as regards the issue of perchlorate in fruits and vegetables have resulted in problems/tensions in intra-Union trade.” It said a harmonised enforcement approach would be appropriate that takes into account “the consumer health protection and what is feasible and achievable taking also into account good practices and regional differences.”

Revised maximum perchlorate concentrations to be used as a reference for intra-Union trade – applicable as of March 16 this year – include:

Fruits and vegetables: 0.1 mg/kg
with the exception of
– Cucurbitaceae and leafy vegetables: 0.2 mg/kg, except
– – celery and spinach grown in glasshouse/undercover 0.5 mg/kg
– – herbs, lettuce and salad plants, including rucola, grown in glasshouse/under cover 1.0 mg/kg

The leafy vegetables grown in glasshouse/under cover have to be labelled as such (or be reasonably demonstrated as being from such production in case of non-compliance with the specific level for open air production) for the application of the specific level as reference value established for the leafy vegetables grown in glasshouse/ under cover. In the absence of such a labelling (or subsequent proof of origin), the levels as reference values for intra-Union trade established for leafy vegetables grown in the open air shall apply.


COMMISSION RECOMMENDATION (EU) 2015/682 of 29 April 2015 on the monitoring of the presence of perchlorate in food

EUROPEAN COMMISSION DIRECTORATE-GENERAL FOR HEALTH AND FOOD SAFETY: Statement as regards the presence of perchlorate in food endorsed by the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed on 10 March 2015, updated on 23 June 2015

Test tube image: CSIRO via Wikimedia Commons

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Nanotechnology, cloning among sticky issues in ‘novel food’ law reform

Nanotechnology and cloning are among issues provoking most debate as the EU considers reform of its novel food regulation.

The exotic fruit juice Noni juice and a high pressure fruit juice – made using new production techniques – are examples of novel foods that have won approval to go on sale in the EU in recent years.

But according to a recent European Parliament briefing paper, the current authorisation process for novel foods is seen by the food industry as complex, expensive and time-consuming. As well, other stakeholders agree the current novel foods regulation, urgently needs updating to reflect scientific and technological advances.

A previous bid at revision, in 2008, failed due to disagreement over food derived from cloned animals. Questions related to cloning were therefore left out of the European Commission’s reform proposal in the 2013 which would make changes including the removal of the former novel food categories; centralisation of the authorisation process; a shift from applicant-based to generic authorisations; and simplification of procedure for traditional foods from third countries.

Interinstitutional trilogue negotiations started last December 2014 and the Committee of Member States’ Permanent Representatives (Coreper) approved the resulting compromise text on 10 June, with the EP’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) following suit on June 25. The text is now expected to be voted in plenary in October 2015.

According to the briefing paper, the issues which proved to be difficult to negotiate were nanotechnology, cloning and parliamentary scrutiny over the list of authorised novel foods.

It said the trilogue agreed that food from cloned animals would be retained under the Novel Foods Regulation during the transitional period until the two separate proposals currently being discussed come into force.

It also reached an agreement on nanotechnology, setting a 50% threshold content for nanoparticles to be defined as ‘nano’ but to be lowered progressively, through delegated acts, as advances in technology make it possible to detect smaller amounts.

The paper said nanotechnology is a field of applied sciences dealing with manipulation of matter at atomic and molecular scale (less than 100 nanometers). “This emerging technology could have important applications in the food and feed sector in the future. Nanotechnologies can be used in the food industry, for example in food packaging, or to improve taste of food, to reduce sugar or salt content or to slow down microbial activity.”

However, it also noted the potential risks of nanotechnology for food safety and public health are still hard to assess. “Some nanomaterials, for example, may have the potential to enter the human body through the skin or through mucous membranes (e.g. in the respiratory or alimentary tract), possibly causing health risks.”

It said there so far no accurate definition of nanomaterial in the EU. The European Commission recommended a definition of ‘nanomaterial’ as material where 50% or more of the particles are less than 100 nanometers in size, but EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority), in view of the current uncertainties, proposes that a lower nanoparticle threshold of 10% should be considered for food-related applications.

source: European Parliament briefing paper “Updating rules on novel foods to keep up with scientific advances”

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Efsa: no evidence Ebola could be transmitted through food in EU

Outbreaks of Zaire Ebola virus disease have been reported in nine countries so far – Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Senegal. All these countries can export fruits and vegetables into the EU, with the exception of potatoes.

There is no evidence the Ebola virus can be transmitted through food in the European Union, according to a report by EFSA scientists published this week.

They assessed the risk of Ebola being transmitted via consumption of raw foods such as fruit and vegetables that have been legally imported into the EU from Africa.

Not only have there been no reported human cases of Ebola infection from the consumption of these foods, neither have any of the following been reported, which the Efsa experts say would be necessary for the virus to be transmitted though food:

  • the exported food would have to be contaminated at the point of origin;
  • it would need to contain a viable virus (“capable of surviving”) on arrival in the EU;
  • the person would have to be infected following foodborne exposure. 

However, the scientists identified some knowledge and data gaps – for example for how long the virus could survive in food.

Outbreaks of Zaire Ebola virus disease have been reported in nine countries so far – Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Senegal. All these countries can export fruits and vegetables into the EU, with the exception of potatoes. 

Read: An update on the risk of transmission of Ebola virus (EBOV) via the food chain – Part 2

Image: NIAID (Ebola Virus Particles) via Wikimedia Commons

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EFSA: pesticide residues under legal limits in 97% of foods in EU

Screenshot 2015-03-12 at 11

More than 97% of food samples evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) contain pesticide residue levels that fall within legal limits, with just under 55% of samples free of detectable traces of these chemicals, EFSA reported today. The findings come from its 2013 annual report on pesticide residues in food, which includes results for almost 81,000 food samples from 27 EU Member States, Iceland and Norway.

The majority of samples (68.2%) were taken from food originating in Europe, with 27.7% coming from food imported from third countries. The percentage of samples from third countries exceeding legal limits was higher (5.7%) than for EU countries (1.4%). However, exceedance rates for imported food have fallen by nearly two percentage points (from 7.5%) since 2012.

For the EU co-ordinated programme, the reporting states tested 11,582 samples from 12 food products – apples, head cabbage, leek, lettuce, peaches, rye, oats, strawberries, tomatoes, cow’s milk, swine meat and wine. The results showed that 99.1% of the samples contained residue levels within permissible limits and almost 53% contained no measurable residues. 

Strawberries had greatest MRL exceedance rate and highest % of multiple residues

The highest MRL exceedance rate was found for strawberries (2.5 % of the samples), followed by lettuce (2.3 %), oats (1.3 %), peaches (1.1 %) and apples (1.0 %). The MRL exceedance rate was below 1 % for the remaining products – head cabbage (0.9 %), tomatoes (0.9 %) leek (0.5 %) and wine (0.1 %).

The products with the highest percentage of samples with multiple residues were strawberries (63 %), peaches (53 %), apples (46 %) and lettuce (36 %). Lower occurrence levels were recorded for oats (28 %), tomatoes (27 %), wine (23 %), rye (16 %), leek (14 %) and head cabbage (4.8 %).

Comparison with 2010 results

Compared to its analysis in 2010, However, EFSA noted a lower number of MRL exceedances related to non-approved pesticides in 2013 in apples, head cabbage, peaches and strawberries. In apples, lettuce and tomatoes some pesticides were found in exceedance of the MRL that were not present or were within the legal limits in 2010.

Assessment of consumer exposure

Considering the frequency of pesticide residues detected in food commonly consumed, a wide range of European consumers are expected to be exposed to these substances via food. To quantify the expected exposure and the related risk, EFSA performed short-term and long-term dietary risk assessments for the pesticides covered by the EU-coordinated programme (EUCP).

The short-term (acute) exposure was calculated for the 12 food products covered by the 2013 EUCP. For the majority of the pesticides assessed, the short-term exposure was found to be negligible or within a range that is unlikely to pose a consumer health concern. The exposure exceeded the toxicological reference value (ARfD) for 218 samples of the total of 18 747 samples taken into account for the short-term dietary exposure assessment (1.16 %), assuming that the product was consumed in high amounts without washing or any processing which would reduce the residues (e.g. peeling).

Most of the cases exceeding the ARfD were due to chlorpyrifos residues (145 determinations), mainly in apples and peaches. The high number of exceedances of the ARfD is related to the fact that the toxicological reference value for chlorpyrifos was recently lowered, which triggers the need to re-evaluate the existing MRLs for chlorpyrifos. Excluding the results for chlorpyrifos, 73 samples contained residues exceeding the ARfD.

Based on the results of the 2013 EUCP, EFSA concluded that the probability of European citizens being exposed to pesticide residues exceeding concentrations that may lead to negative health outcomes was low.

Organic produce

In 15.5 % of samples of organic products (717 of the 4 620 samples analysed) pesticide residues were detected within the legal limits whereas 0.8 % of the samples exceeded the MRL. In these samples, 134 distinct pesticides were identified. In most cases the detected residues were related to pesticides that are permitted for organic farming, persistent environmental pollutants or residues of substances that are not necessarily related to the use of pesticides but which may come from natural sources.

Read more from EFSA here.



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EFSA advises vitamin A intake of 650 μg for women and 750 μg for men

Sweet red peppers are among the vegetables rich in the vitamin A precursor β-carotene

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published dietary intake guidance for vitamin A following a request from the European Commission.

In a scientific opinion published March 5 by EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies, it set Population Reference Intakes (PRIs) – which should cover the physiological needs of most of the healthy population  – of 750 µg retinol equivalent RE/day for men and 650 µg RE/day for women.

It set average requirements (ARs) for vitamin A ranging from 190 µg RE/day in infants aged 7–11 months to 580 µg RE/day in boys aged 15–17 years.

Vegetables and fruit rich in Vitamin A precursor

EFSA said the term vitamin A comprises retinol and the family of naturally occurring molecules associated with the biological activity of retinol, as well as provitamin A carotenoids that are dietary precursors of retinol.

It said foods rich in retinol include offal and meat, butter, retinol-enriched margarine, dairy products and eggs, while foods rich in β-carotene – which the human body can convert into vitamin A (retinol) – include vegetables and fruit, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, dark green leafy vegetables, sweet red peppers, mangoes and melons.

Vitamin A intake in the EU

Dietary surveys in nine EU countries found average vitamin A intake ranged between 816–1,498 μg RE/day in adults and 597–1,078 μg RE/day in children aged 10–18 years.

Read the EFSA document here.