The process is being undertaken across all 27 Member States to identify species that may require future safety assessments in order to be marketed as ‘novel foods’ when EC Regulation 258/97 is updated.
The information request relates to species currently sold in the UK and the duration and extent of sales.
The agency is seeking to identify any insects or “other animals, such as worms” on to the UK market after May 15 1997. Where such products have been consumed in a "significant degree" before this date, the assessment will not be needed.
Asked about edible insect sales, Richard Rogers from insect breeder and supplier BugsDirectUK.com told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “It’s certainly a growing market, and an interesting one, to say the least.”
The bug-buying demographic covered both individuals with a penchant for insects and those buying products for charitable causes, Rogers said.
“It’s been fed by TV series, but equally people travelling abroad and eating what are considered common and garden insects over there.”
The company sourced its bugs, “crickets, scorpions, etc.” from farms in Thailand and across Southeast Asia, which was the main source of products, Rogers said.
He described crickets, meal worms and ants as the firm’s top sellers via Edibleunique.com. More unusual products sold by the firm include chocolate dipped bugs, cricket lollipops and (at £4.99 per pack) Thai fried giant crickets.
Describing such delicacies as “highly nutritious” and an excellent source of protein in that region, Rogers said perceptions of insects in the UK weren’t very different to foods such as prawns in other countries, where the latter are considered a little strange.
Novel foods oversight
Regulations covering the import of insects involved Border Inspection Post (BIP) checks on ‘products of animal origin’, Rogers said, from which samples were sometimes taken.
BugsDirectUK.com also paid to have products tested for pathogens in a laboratory, he added, but had never encountered any problems.
Meanwhile, the attitude of government health inspectors towards the company had changed, he said: “They’ve gone from being very concerned, because what we’re doing is different, to being really quite relaxed about the whole thing.”
The FSA explained that 'insects and other whole animals' are currently exempt from EC Regulation 258/97, due to an "apparent oversight" within the existing text.
The agency said it aimed to generate a comprehensive list to feed into the updated Regulation, concerning which discussions will take place in 2012.