Crickets and mealworm larvae have been approved for human consumption
Last week, the European Union ruled that the maggot-like larvae of lesser mealworms — a type of shiny black beetle — and house crickets (in partially defatted powder form) may be used in the production of several foods, including pizza and pasta-based products, bread, crackers and breadsticks, meat preparations and soups, snacks and sauces, biscuits, chocolate confectionery and even beer-like beverages. This means that EU citizens may soon find themselves eating bugs without even knowing it. Sure, the regulation states that foods containing insects must be labelled, but just how flashy those labels turn out to be remains to be seen. More importantly, should we care?
For starters, these are not the first insects to be approved for human use, in the EU or elsewhere. Yellow mealworms, migratory locusts and house crickets (not in defatted powder form) were already approved in the EU — and these were included in the Brexit transition agreement, which means that they’re approved for use in Britain as well. These and other insects, such as the black fly and the housefly, are already sold in most Western countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia.
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As one might guess, they’re generally not consumed whole but in processed form, in products such as burger patties, fitness bars, snacks, protein shakes and even ice cream. Sometimes the presence of insect-based flour may be gleaned only by going through the list of ingredients. So chances are you might have already munched on some pulverised crickets without even realising it.
One insect readers would have almost certainly already eaten are cochineals, tiny bugs that are used to make one of the most widely used red food colourings, carmine. These are found in everything from yoghurts and ice creams to fruit pies, soft drinks, cupcakes and donuts (it’s also used extensively in the cosmetics industry and is found in many lipsticks).
So why are edible insects — a great source of nutrients, especially protein — shaping up to be the next battle in the Great Western Culture War? Part of it has to do with the way in which the issue is being heavily peddled by the establishment media — a fact which makes some people instinctively sceptical — and how it is usually bundled together with other highly polarising culture war issues such as climate change, Net Zero and degrowth.
Indeed, the main argument in favour of bugs is that they represent a much more “sustainable” alternative to meat: they require much less land and water, and emit much fewer greenhouse gases.
In today’s polarised political environment, this kind of simplistic “good versus bad” framing has meant that the question of edible insects has become politicised, overlapping with people’s pre-existing views on a whole set of other issues. The fact that the “bug food revolution” is being touted by reviled organisations such as the World Economic Forum, jet-flying corporate CEOs and millionaire Hollywood celebrities is seen by many as further confirmation that there’s something nefarious going on. That may be the case or not, but one thing is clear: people have every right to be suspicious of these elite-driven propaganda campaigns to manipulate people into supporting “the current thing” — whether it’s lockdowns, vaccines, the Ukraine war or edible insects.
There may very well be good reasons for insects making up a greater mix of our diets, but telling people that ditching meat will save the planet (it won’t) and solve the problem of global hunger (nope, sorry) will only invite more resistance. The same goes for the idea that we shouldn’t be too fussy because two billion people on the planet already eat insects (that number is most likely a massive overstatement). In other words, they are treating citizens like children whose minds can be moulded at will. And we’re not going to drink the cricket-flavoured Kool-Aid.