This article follows our introduction to the alternative protein industry and the legal considerations for companies and investors operating in it. This article focuses on the regulation of insects intended for food and feed in the European Union (“EU“), UK (“UK”), United States and Singapore.
Newcomers may want to read part 1 from the Serie.
While insects are traditional food sources in parts of Latin America, Asia and Africa, the global insect protein industry is currently experiencing a surge in investment and is expected to account for more than £3 billion in 2027. This growth in investment is driven by two key factors: first, insect protein offers excellent nutritional value — the insect exoskeleton, known as chitin, contains fiber and acts as a prebiotic; and second, insects are a viable way to reduce the inefficiencies and environmental costs of our food systems – insect production can be in line with circular economy principles. Entocycle in the UK, Ÿnsect in France, Bitty Foods in the US and Nutrition Technologies in Singapore are active in the insect protein market. However, the industry is currently constrained by consumer reluctance to try new foods (food neophobia), cost and regulation.
Unleashing the growth of the insect protein industry
Actions taken by industry to overcome obstacles to growth in the EU, UK, US and Singapore include:
- Consumer reluctance to explore unfamiliar foods (food neophobia). Companies circumvent this problem by introducing insect protein (in powder or oil form) into familiar products, such as nutrition bars, burgers, bread and pasta. Forward-thinking restaurants, such as Noma in Denmark, have also begun incorporating insects into their menus, seeking to create “a gastronomic argument that will make insects an acceptable food in the Western world”. At the same time, the industry has shifted into the animal feed space, which is now a key area of the market, as insects present a viable and more environmentally friendly alternative to soybeans and fishmeal. .
- Cost. Insect proteins are still expensive to produce; the equipment and processes needed to produce them must be optimized for large-scale production. Some consumers are willing to pay higher prices for the health and environmental benefits of insect protein, but many are excluded from this market. To address this, corporations and some governments (e.g. Singapore) are investing heavily in production R&D and partnering with food conglomerates to gain efficiencies. This is a trend that we believe will continue as the insect protein industry develops.
- Regulation. There has traditionally been a lack of regulation and certainty about the rules around the use of insects for food and feed. Current regulatory regimes for insect protein for human consumption limit the rate at which the industry evolves. Regulatory regimes typically involve lengthy, costly and complex approval processes, and/or create uncertainty for producers. They also present significant obstacles for start-ups. Regulators are weary of the food safety risks presented by insect protein and, in particular, the risks associated with intra-species feeding of animal protein – a practice that has historically led to outbreaks of diseases such as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (eg mad cow disease) . Below are some additional thoughts on regulatory regimes.
An overview of insect regulations in the EU, UK, US and Singapore
a. Insects for human consumption
b. Insects for animal feed
a. Insects for human consumption
In the United States, there is still a lack of legal certainty for producers operating in this area. The FDA may consider insects intended for human consumption as food additives under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”). A food additive is a substance “the intended use of which results or can reasonably be expected to result […] by becoming a component of or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food,” 21 USC § 321(s). Food additives require premarket approval by the FDA unless they are generally recognized as safe (“FAT”), which for novel foods requires consensus among qualified experts. GRAS certification can be challenging for insects intended for human consumption given the large number of insect species and the complexity of the assessment process. In the meantime, best practice is for producers to ensure their food is “safe,” safe, and not mislabeled.
The EU regime is complicated and compliance is expensive. It is also difficult to navigate, given the difference in approaches between Member States resulting from the transitional measure introduced by the 2015 Novel Foods Regulation.
The fact that the transitional measure was not carried over by the Novel Foods (England) Regulations 2018 in the UK has been problematic for UK businesses, who now have to go through the pre-market authorization process. in the expensive and time-consuming FSA market. This has been a setback for the industry in the UK and has also been a source of frustration for insect growers, as the FSA has instituted a transition agreement for cannabidiol (CBD) products (which are also subject to novel food regulations in the EU and UK).
Also, the UK has the discretion to freely legislate in this area now that it is no longer an EU member state, but the FSA has not deviated from the substance of the EU regulations . Industry in the UK is calling for a relaxation of the legislation and a review of the marketing authorization regime. The hope is that the UK government will introduce a scheme that protects consumers and ensures product quality and safety, while allowing the industry to reach its full potential.
Singapore is known for its acceptance of alternative proteins for human consumption and it is clearly investing heavily in this space. The SFA was recently established and in a short time organized the regulatory framework for novel foods and a working group to support the framework, and applied for R&D grants from the Singapore government. The intention is to keep the regulatory framework under review so that it can be updated as the novel food industries evolve. The SFA’s hope is that this will provide businesses with practical leeway to innovate competitively and ensure that any food safety risks can be identified and managed early in the process.
b. Comments on use for animal feed
The authorization of the use of insect proteins in poultry and pig feed is big news for the animal feed industry in the EU and will give a significant boost to the European insect industry. . However, producers will still have to comply with TSE regulations, which means they will be limited in terms of the substrates they can give insects produced for poultry and pig feed.
No similar action has been taken in the UK to allow the use of insect protein in poultry and pig feed. However, such a move would make sense, given predictions published in a report commissioned by WWF and Tesco on its potential use. The report states that “Total demand for insect meal from the UK pork, poultry and salmon sectors could reach around 540,000 tonnes a year by 2050”. Unless legislation is relaxed to allow the use of insect protein in pig and poultry feed, the UK insect protein industry risks falling behind.
In the United States, the AAFCO voted to allow black soldier fly larvae in adult dog food. Currently, no other insect ingredients are approved for use in animal feed in the United States.
Black soldier fly larvae are also approved for use in fish feed in Singapore. In 2019, Enterprise Singapore, a Singaporean government agency charged with championing business development, announced its investment in Nutrition Technologies, a Singapore-based agribusiness technology company aiming to establish the world’s largest black soldier fly larvae production facility in commercial scale.
Regulation remains a major impediment to the growth of the insect protein industry. We see a lot of progress, but regulators will have to go further (and faster) if they want the industry to reach its potential.
Insect protein producers and investors interested in this space are urged to keep an eye out for regulatory developments to ensure they can capitalize on opportunities as they arise. Recognizing that our food systems must adapt to prepare for the future and, in particular, that they must change to ward off the worst effects of climate change, insect proteins appear to be a key component of our future food systems.