There have been, and will continue to be, many changes within the UK resulting from Brexit, with the UK having left the European Union at the end of the transition period at 11pm on 31 December 2020. One change which may not have been at the forefront of minds is the delay on suppliers in Great Britain being able to legally trade in edible insects; a delay which, according to recent reports, is likely to continue throughout 2022.
Edible insects are a potential sustainable alternative to protein derived from meat and fish because they require significantly less land, account for a fraction of greenhouse gas emissions and require much less water than cattle or pigs. Whilst insects have long been on the menu in other parts of the world, for example toasted grasshoppers in Mexico and Witchetty grub in Australia, they are not yet widely adopted in Europe (despite insect products, including honey, being mainstay ingredients). With the global population increasing and consumers having a keener eye on sustainability, insects are widely considered to be a viable alternative food source, with snack and nutritional products such as roasted mealworms and cricket-flour entering the market in recent years.
Their supply, however, has been affected by the end of the transition period, which invalidated all applications for edible insects, classed as “novel foods” under EU law. Any application for a novel ingredient not approved for use in the EU as of 1 January 2020, must be re-submitted to the Food Standards Authority (“FSA”) before being sold in the GB market.
Applications must be made for each novel food or ingredient to be considered and whilst applications are free to submit, costs arise in having to gather scientific evidence for the FSA to be able to make an informed decision as to whether their introduction into the market is deemed safe. In May 2021, the Guardian reported that legal authorisation to operate may cost between £70,000 and £85,000. For businesses relying on the sale of edible insects, who may have been forced to cease trading because of this change in the law, this is a considerable amount of money which may just prove too costly or otherwise tighten margins and pass the cost on to consumers, risking making the products uncompetitive to their "traditional" protein counterparts.
It is evident that (at least in the short term) red tape imposed by Brexit could lead to missed opportunities in bringing new and alternative foods into the market.
Whilst it all may seem doom and gloom at this stage, the fact that the UK has left the EU and is free to deviate from the EU’s position on novel foods might mean that there is scope and opportunity in the future for the UK to be at the forefront of emerging areas in the food and beverage sector and align itself closer to global trends. However, plans may have to be mothballed until this is resolved.