According to Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/625, ‘insects’ means food consisting of, isolated from or produced from insects or their parts including any life stadia of insects intended for human consumption which are, when applicable, authorised in accordance with Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 and listed in Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/2470.
In accordance with Regulation (EU) No 2015/2283, the EU "Novel Foods" Regulation, in the absence of evidence of a significant history of consumption within the European Union prior to 15 May 1997, all insect-based products (not only parts of insects or extracts, but also whole insects and their preparations) are considered to be "novel foods".
Consequently, an authorisation for a “novel food” must be obtained at a European level before insects for human consumption are permitted to be placed on the EU market.
As there was an absence of legal certainty regarding the scope of the "old” novel food legislation (Regulation (EC) No 258/97, which was repealed on 1 January 2018 by Regulation (EU) 2015/2283), the Belgian authorities tolerated the placement on the market of certain whole insects for human consumption. This only concerned insects belonging to ten species for which food safety had been evaluated in a 'common advice' document from the Scientific Committee of the FASFC and the Superior Health Council (Common Advice SciCom 14-2014 and SHC No 9160).
After 1 January 2018, the Belgian policy of tolerance continued for the whole insects that were already tolerated and for which an application for authorisation as a novel food had already been submitted.
A judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union of 1 October 2020 removed the legal uncertainty and stated that whole insects do not fall within the scope of Regulation (EC) No 258/97 (Case C-526/19).
Consequently, the tolerance policy that existed in Belgium was discontinued and replaced with the application of the transitional measures provided for in paragraph 2 of Article 35 Regulation (EU) No 2015/2283.
See point 2 "Policy” below and the Q&A of the FPS Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment (FPS Health).
The transitional measures will cease to apply when the European Commission has taken a decision on an application for authorisation. The consequences depend on the decision taken, see the Q&A of the FPS Health for further details.
Since whole insects do not fall within the scope of Regulation (EC) No 258/97, but according to Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 are now regarded as “novel foods”, they may, in accordance with the transitional measures, continue to be placed on the market until a decision is taken on their application for authorisation of a “novel food” and subject to the following cumulative conditions:
- the whole insects and foods based on these insects were legally placed on the market before 1 January 2018, and
- an application for authorisation as a “novel food” was submitted by 1 January 2019 at the latest.
In Belgium, this concerns whole insects belonging to the insect species assessed as safe in the "Common Advice SciCom 14-2014 and SHC no. 9160" .
The transitional measures therefore only apply to whole insects, and only for the respective uses stated in the applications for authorisation submitted to the European Commission (see the Q&A of the FPS Health). It is therefore necessary to take into account the species of insect and its development stage (e.g. adults), as well as the technological treatment applied to the whole insects and the categories of products in which they are used. Since applications had to be submitted by 1 January 2019 at the latest in order to qualify for the transitional measures, whereas under the previous Belgian tolerance policy an application had to be submitted by 1 January 2018, this was adapted and more uses are now being tolerated. The details can be found in the Annex of the Q&A of the FPS Health.
In Belgium, it is authorised to place whole insects on the market on the condition that they:
- have been approved as novel foods, or;
- fall under the transitional measures applicable in Belgium and;
- Are produced by
- Belgian operators registered with the FASFC, or
- That are produced by operators in other EU Member States, where these products are legally on the market, or;
- That are produced by operators in third countries, provided that these countries are on the list of third countries from which the entry into the Union of consignments of insects is authorised, in accordance with the legislation in force (Implementing Regulation 2021/405). The insects must be accompanied by an official health certificate for entry into the European Union (see http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg_impl/2020/2235/2021-04-21) completed by the competent authorities of the third country. The requirements in Regulation (EU) 2017/625 on official controls and other official activities performed to ensure the application of food and feed law, rules on animal health and welfare, plant health and plant protection products, must be met. See https://www.favv-afsca.be/professionelen/invoer/.
Consequently, the Belgian tolerance policy does not apply to (food products based on) insects which do not have an authorisation as novel foods and which do not comply with the conditions of the transitional measures as stated in the annex of the Q&A of the FPS Public Health (e.g. the insects are not used whole);
What is the situation in the other EU Member States?
The (food products based on) insects approved as novel food can be placed on the market throughout the EU. If you want to buy or sell (food products based on) insects in another Member State which fall under the transitional measures applied in Belgium, you will need to check with the competent authorities of this Member State as to how the transitional measures are applied in the relevant country. For example, it is not permitted to purchase insects in a Member State where they are not legally placed on the market, in order to place them on the market in Belgium, possibly after further processing.
Export to third countries
If (food products based on) insects are approved as novel foods or fall under the application of the transitional measures, production is allowed in Belgium on condition that the applicable rules are complied with. If (food products based on) insects are placed on the market within the EU, even if the final destination is a third country, the Belgian producer must register with the FASFC and will be subject to official controls.
For example: an insect breeder supplies a producer who processes the insects into cereal bars, after which the cereal bars are exported to a third country. Both the breeder and the producer must be registered with the FASFC and the insects must be authorised to be placed on the market in Belgium (approved as novel food or subject to the transitional measures).
In the event that (food products based on) insects cannot be placed on the market in Belgium and they are only destined for export to a third country that authorises imports of these food products from Belgium and their consumption on its territory, the operator in question can contact their local control unit (LCU). In any case, the operator is not permitted to place these (food products based on) insects on the market within the EU and, consequently, it is not permitted to rely on intermediate operators within the EU (e.g. for breeding or for a processing step). The producer must therefore carry out the entire process.
It is always the responsibility of the producers of (food products based on) insects to ensure compliance with any additional requirements that are imposed by the importing country.
How can an authorisation be obtained for novel foods?
Applications for authorisation are submitted by an operator (or a consortium of operators) to the European Commission via an "e-submission" system. The Commission evaluates the validity of the applications (= validation stage).
Summaries of the validated applications can be found on the website of the European Commission (https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/novel_food/authorisations/summary-applications-and-notifications_en).
The Commission presents the valid applications to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for advice. If the scientific opinion of the EFSA is favourable, the Commission, in cooperation with the authorities of the Member States, will grant an authorisation. The novel food in question will be added to the “European Union list of approved novel foods".
For more information, see the Q&A of the FPS Health.
The placing on the market of whole insects and food products based on whole insects is subject to the general principles of food legislation, including the application of good hygiene practices, traceability, notification, labelling, and the implementation of a self-checking system based on the HACCP principles (control of chemical and microbiological hazards, among other hazards).
For example, all operators in the food chain are subject to the "General Food Law" (Regulation (EC) 178/2002) which lays down the general rules of food legislation.
The operators of food product businesses that breed insects and place live insects on the market for human consumption are subject to the rules laid down in Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 that apply to primary sector operators. These operators must be registered with the FASFC. The feed given to insects intended for human consumption is subject to feed legislation and must comply with the general rules on feed hygiene laid down in Regulation (EC) 183/2005. Insects reared for the purpose of human consumption fall within the definition of farmed animals, more specifically food-producing animals. The feed rules applicable to feed for other farmed animals such as pigs, cattle and poultry are therefore also applicable to insects. More detailed information can be found on the website of the FASFC at http://www.favv-afsca.fgov.be/dierlijkeproductie/dierenvoeding/.
Operators who handle, prepare, process, store, display or transport insects with a view to placing them on the market for human consumption are subject to the rules laid down in Regulations (EC) 852/2004 and (EC) 853/2004.
The rules on labelling of pre-packaged and non-pre-packaged foodstuffs listed in Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 apply.
- Persons who are allergic to crustaceans and/or dust mites may have an allergic reaction when eating insects. See e.g. the EFSA opinions on novel food applications, such as for the yellow mealworm, Tenebrio molitor. The label must state the warning: "Persons who are allergic to crustaceans and/or dust mites may have an allergic reaction when eating insects".
- Where appropriate, the label must indicate that the legs and/or wings must be removed before consumption (crickets, grasshoppers).
According to the Common Advice SciCom 14-2014 and SHC No. 9160, a cooking stage (e.g. by blanching, boiling in water or oven drying) is recommended as a treatment to reduce germs before the product is placed on the market. Spore-forming bacteria are a potential risk when consuming insects, suitable storage conditions are therefore strongly recommended. Given the relatively long shelf life of dried or freeze-dried insects, the number of pathogens that can grow in the product until the end of the shelf life should also be taken into account.
Foodstuffs placed on the market must be periodically tested for the presence of pathogens, using the food safety criteria listed in:
- The authorisation as novel food, e.g. microbiological criteria for Tenebrio molitor see: Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/882 of 1 June 2021 authorising the placing on the market of dried Tenebrio molitor larva as a novel food under Regulation (EU) 2015/2283
- The insects that fall under the traditional measures must comply to the food safety criteria listed in Regulation (EC) 2073/2005 for Salmonella spp. and Listeria monocytogenes.
Other microorganisms of interest for analysis are total aerobic count at 30°C, Enterobacteriaceae, Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus coagulase +, yeasts and moulds.
Enterobacteriaceae, total germs, Staphylococcus coagulase + … are process hygiene guidelines or distribution indicative values. These are not binding, which means that the contamination is higher than can be expected from the product. When there is a non-conformity with a food safety guideline value or criterion, appropriate measures and actions shall be taken, for example withdrawal / recall.
When there is a non-conformity with a food safety guideline value or criterion, appropriate measures and actions must be taken, for example withdrawal / recall.
All substances used during the breeding of the insects or during the production of insect-based foodstuffs (e.g. biocides, food additives, feed additives, etc.) must be authorised for their intended use.
Operators from the processing and/or distribution sector that place insects or insect-based foodstuffs on the market for human consumption are required to hold an authorisation/approval from the FASFC appropriate to the activities being performed.
Contact your Local Control Unit (LCU) if you have any questions: https://www.favv-afsca.be/professionnels/contact/ulc/
- FPS Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment:
- General information about Novel Food
- Procedure to apply for an authorisation
- Q&A on Novel Food legislation relating to insects for human consumption
Contact address of FPS Health, e.g. for questions regarding the novel food status of a product: firstname.lastname@example.org
- European Commission: https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/novel_food/, for information about procedures, the status of applications, the novel food catalogue, etc.
- EFSA safety recommendations: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/publications (including from the yellow mealworm-Tenebrio molitor)
- Use of insects in animal feed: http://www.favv-afsca.fgov.be/dierlijkeproductie/dierenvoeding/insekten/ and http://www.favv-afsca.fgov.be/invoerderdelanden/voedingdieren/
- Questions concerning import: email@example.com
Questions concerning export: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Strategic Platform Insects: https://lv.vlaanderen.be/nl/dier/paarden-ezels-bijen-honden/insecten, e.g. for a manual on insect breeding, available in NL and ENG
- Belgian Insect Industry Federation (BIIF): https://www.biif.org/.
- International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF): https://ipiff.org/