The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued a scientific opinion assessing any potential risks associated with the use of insect protein in food and animal feed. Concluding that chemical and biological risks depend on production method, the type of substrate used, and insect species, the expert panel specifically notes that “the occurrence of prions—abnormal proteins that can cause diseases such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans—is expected to be equal or lower if the substrate does not include protein derived from humans (manure) or ruminants.” The report also calls for more data about the possible accumulation of cadmium, arsenic, lead, mercury, and other heavy metals in farm-raised insects.
“EFSA concludes that when non-processed insects are fed with currently permitted feed materials, the potential occurrence of microbiological hazards is expected to be similar to that associated with other nonprocessed sources of protein,” states a concurrent press release. “There are limited data available on the transfer of chemical contaminants from different types of substrate to the insects themselves.”
In a related development, an October 16, 2015, feature article in Science magazine examines insects as “an ideal animal feed,” noting that the European Union (EU) already funds research—known as PROTeINSECT— designed to weigh the risks and benefits of “industrial-scale” insect farming for livestock feed. According to the article, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates “that insect meal could replace between 25% and 100% of soymeal or fishmeal” in the diets of many fish species, crustaceans, chickens and pigs “with no adverse effects.”
But U.S. and EU regulators are still concerned that insects could concentrate environmental toxins or pass along diseases, even as proponents of insect meal cite stringent BSE regulations as a roadblock to further development. The article concludes, “On many issues, however, there’s simply not enough information… Whether maggot-fed meat eventually makes its way to the table will depend in part on public acceptance.”