Sweden: The most anti-edible-insect country in Europe?

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Today it is the 23rd of October. It’s World Edible Insect Day, and entopreneurs around the world promote eating insects by organizing tastings, seminars and dinners. Not here in Sweden. It’s not because we lack companies or enthusiasts promoting edible insects. Hakuna Mat, Qvicket, eat:em, Tebrito and Nutrient are some of the Swedish startups that would love to show off their products to the public. But there is a problem. The Swedish National Food Agency, Livsmedelsverket, have decided to play by the EU regulations in a most orthodox way.

The Novel Foods Act (Regulation (EC) 258/97), that was created during the Mad cow disease epidemic in the 90:s, stated that all food that wasn’t consumed to a significant degree in the European Union before 15 May 1997 was “Novel food”, and as such had to go through an application test to be authorized, normal food. No company has made an application to grant an insect product this status. Probably because the procedure has been very expensive both paying the national food agency for their work on the application, but also paying for all the lab tests, and answering all questions raised from different food agencies around EU. The process (under current regulations) can take several years (4,5,6,7…) and cost millions of Euro. A big financial risk knowing that when you have got the product accepted other companies can make follow up applications and piggyback on the work you have done.

The liberal three: Belgium, The Netherlands and United Kingdom

Another reason no company made an application was that it wasn’t totally clear that insects was a novel food. Some national food agency’s (Belgium, The Netherlands and United Kingdom) didn’t think the original Novel Food Act from 1997 was clearly stating this. Therefore they accepted companies selling insects as food. In these countries entopreneurs have been thriving, and many of the leading insect-food companies in Europe originate in Belgium, The Netherlands and the UK.

In Belgium, FASFC (Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain) has set up a list of ten species of insects that are accepted as food if they are produced in the EU, if the whole insects are used and if requirements for food safety have been respected. They have even made some research and compiled advice on how to cook and handle edible insects safely.

Overly law-abiding Sweden

The Swedish National Food Agency (from now referred to as Livsmedelsverket) took another approach. When FASFC tolerated insects as food awaiting a new version of the Novel Food Act, Livsmedelsverket decided that selling insects as food was illegal awaiting new directives from the EU. The regulation was also enforced. In August 2015 Hakuna Mat had to take down its Swedish web shop selling imported insects, and one month later Qvicket hade to close its shop and stop selling imported cricket flour.

On the 25th of November 2015 the new Novel Food Act regulation (2015/2283) was adopted by the European Union. The new act clearly states that insects and products made of insects are new food and should be regulated by the Novel Food Act. The new revised regulation will be taking effect the first of January 2018.

In the countries that have tolerated insects as food this has caused some alarm. Does this mean that they are out of business 2018? The message from Belgium’s FASFC is clear: We will keep tolerating 10 insect species as food until 1st of January 2018. And if we get an application for approval for insects before that the tolerance can be ”extended until the decision for the submitted requests has been taken”.

In Sweden the message is a bit different: Please send in an application. We will probably not do anything with the application before the 1st of January 2018 when EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) will take care of the applications… but please send them in. And before the application has been approved (1 January 2018 + 2-3 years), we will not tolerate companies selling insects as food in Sweden. And we won’t allow giving away insects at conventions, museums or fairs.

Tightening the straightjacket

Lately the local authorities enforcing the rules have even told Hakuna Mat (you remember the company who had to take down its web shop) that they might not be allowed to serve insects to groups that are trying out their product Hakuna färs, a product made of meal worms.
Ironically Hakuna Mat, is one of three insect-as-food projects that have received funding (0.5 milllon SEK each) from Vinnova, a state agency setting up programs for stimulating innovation. On the 16th of November Hakuna Mat, Tebrito and SP Sveriges Tekniska Forskningsinstitut are supposed to compete with 11 other products using sustainable alternative protein sources.
But is this really legal????

Today it is the World Edible Insect Day. In our neighbouring EU country Denmark (under the same regulations as Sweden) you can visit the museum Økolariet, see their exhibition “Undskyld! der er en orm i min kage” (Excuse me, ther is a worm in my cake), and try out edible insects. Swedes can travel to Copenhagen and buy edible insects in special shops and they can enjoy gourmet food spiced with ants at Noma (“the best restaurant in the world”). Recently Danish farm announced that they will switch from farming pigs to farming mealworms.
But that is Denmark.

Bugburger, Hakuna Mat, eat:em, Tebrito and Nutrient operates from Sweden. Here we celebrate World Edible Insect Day by writing a long text about regulations, while our authorities pride themselves with being number one in EU when it comes to enforcing EU-regulations. Even when everyone knows that their efforts are wasted. Insects will be approved as food. It’s just a matter of time. And in the meanwhile Swedish entopreneurs can do like Qvicket and move to another EU-country… The same Novelty Food Act. But with authorities that embrace change, and understand the importance of developing new sustainable food.

Taste the change Livsmedelsverket! And to all our politicians: Please make it possible for entopreneurs in Sweden to survive. Please don’t leave us in the backwater. Please help us take part in movement to make us live more sustainable. Please help us to make a change!

Anders Engström
Founder Bugburger.se,
advocate of eating insects

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