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Levelling legislation – achieving edible insect authorisation in the UK

The lingering implication of Brexit has left its mark on thousands of business around the UK, especially within the edible insect market as “When the UK officially left the EU in early 2020, no transition had been agreed for the edible insects industry and, while traders in Europe were able to continue, UK traders were not.

In order to understand the implications of Brexit on the edible insect market, one must first ask the questions of ‘how did we ever come to this?’. HOP spoke to Rachel O’Connor, a partner in the agricultural team at Michelmores who specialises in “providing delegates with an update on the UK legislation surrounding the use of insect protein in both the food and feed markets” in order to grasp an understanding of the past, present and future legislation that is facing the edible insect market.

Rachel O'Connor explained to HOP that prior to Brexit legislation was more concise, stating that “Historically, if you wanted to put an insect product on the market, you needed to have novel foods authorisation. When we were part of the EU, that process was relatively clear with an application supported by scientific evidence which would then allow authorisation from the European food safety authority and then agreement and a vote from member states and legislation to support that.

However once Brexit was announced, Rachel explained that “there was a transition period when the novel food regulations were amended to include insects in 2018. What that said was if you had already placed on the market your product, along with an application for novel food regulation approval, then you could keep continuing to do so for the transition period.

Yet, despite food regulation approval, the tides turned for the edible insect industry in January 2021, the date Brexit was finalised. Rachel commented saying “when we came out of the European Union, the FSA, quite unexpectedly, interpreted the particular articles in the legislation as providing, effectively, a long stop date and said that if those applications had not been approved prior to Brexit then you would need to make a ‘novel food applications’ to the FSA. At that point, and still at the point where we are now, no novel food applications of insects for human consumption have been approved so we don't have anything that is permitted to be on the market for human consumption at the moment.

In order to adapt and adhere to the legal alterations, Rachel told HOP that “the length of time that it can take to have that approval can be somewhere between 1 and 3 years if you were to take the European FSA process as a guide. The worry and concern is not only the expense of the time involved in creating and submitting those applications for those dossiers of novel food approval but also the amount of time it will take for the FSA to undertake their research, have a scientific guide which shows that the product is safe and then to have their approval….This has really knocked the industry back in terms of where they were before brexit.

Alongside this Rachel said “the application is quite specific, for example, at a European level we had yellow mealworms that were approved in different forms, yet, one of the difficulties of novel food is that the applications themselves are data protection protected which means that it can be quite difficult to rely on that application but generally once one company has made the application or a group of companies have made the application for a species in a certain form then you can rely on that.

Numerous applications regarding edible insects and Acheta domesticus (House Crickets) have been made in the last few years due to an increase in research caused by market demand as “A. domesticus also appears to be marketed for human consumption in the EU, Australia and USA as a whole insect or as a food ingredient in a number of food products (e.g. nutritional bars, lollipops, flour, chocolate etc.).”

Undoubtedly, it is clear to see that despite the setbacks that the edible insect market faced throughout the transition phase; it is the unbridaled research and testing which is powering the way forward in influencing the legalities that once repressed its expansion.

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