Businesses wanting to sell edible insects say they are being left in limbo due to confusion over post-Brexit trade law.
The industry has made an estimated £6m in revenue over the last decade, but since the UK left the EU, it has lost its ability to trade.
Maisie Paddon had hoped to sell insect-based burgers, sausages and curries through her company Be Bugs at the Glastonbury Festival this year.
She told the PA news agency: “We’ve got a five-star hygiene rating, which is great. But, of course we weren’t surprised when we got our response from Glastonbury.
“They had to contact my local authority, and they (the council) were of the understanding that insects are illegal.”
‘There is always a risk we will be shut down’
Aaron Thomas, who runs meal kit delivery company Yum Bug from north London, said: “There is always a risk that we will be shut down.
“We’ve only just had an inspection from our local environmental health officer [EHO] but… they might have a conversation with a different EHO or someone more senior in their office, that maybe has a different opinion on insects in general, maybe they haven’t had as much experience and they tell them ‘Actually no, I think you should be shutting the company down’.”
In 2018, the EU introduced food regulations ruling that edible insects were a novel food, meaning they needed new safety checks, including in the UK.
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.
A decision from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is expected in June, which could allow the businesses to trade in the UK temporarily.
The Woven Network, which represents the industry, is also seeking permanent approval to sell food containing crickets and mealworms.
It has been working with the European equivalent to provide evidence that eating the insects is safe, although the assessment could take up to 18 months.
‘We have total confidence they are safe’
Nick Rousseau, a director of the Woven Network, said that before the new EU regulations, people were able to eat and trade insect products freely in the UK “entirely legitimately over many years”.
He added: “We have total confidence they are safe.
“The FAO, the global Food and Agriculture Organisation, says they’re safe, so long as your farming and product development practices do not introduce contaminants or other risks. So inherently, they’re edible.”
Michael Wight, head of food safety policy at the FSA, said: “We are aware that edible insects, as part of the alternative proteins market, can offer benefits, most notably for the environment.”
He added: “We are working hard to support and advise businesses and trade bodies so that they can provide high quality dossiers and evidence as part of their novel foods applications.”