I just want to follow up with a more detailed analysis of the FDA’s response to inquiry on edible insects. The documents are very helpful to the industry and provide insight into the FDA’s perspective.
One thing to keep in mind when referencing the documents is that they are Guidance Documents (even though that is not explicitly stated). In other words, the statements represent the FDA’s current think on the topic. As a reference, the FDA’s seafood guidance document has the following language in the preface and throughout the document:
This guidance represents the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) current thinking on this topic. It does not create or confer any rights for or on any person and does not operate to bind FDA or the public. You can use an alternative approach if the approach satisfies the requirements of the applicable statutes and regulations. If you want to discuss an alternative approach, contact the FDA staff responsible for implementing this guidance. If you cannot identify the appropriate FDA staff, call the telephone number listed on the title page of this guidance.
Secondly, some of the statements in the response do not appear as thoroughly research as one would expect from the FDA. Or maybe the statements reflect a conservative stance due to a lack of information on edibles insects and their novelty in the U.S. My comments are below.
- “bugs/insects are considered food if that is the intended use” – This checks out! Here is the actual verbiage in the code for Sec. 201(f): The term “food” means (1) articles used for food or drink for man or other animals, (2) chewing gum, and (3) articles used for components of any such article.
- “The label should include scientific name” – Unfounded in law. Listing crickets as ‘Cricket’ or ‘Crickets’ or ‘Cricket Powder’ on the ingredient declaration is not false or misleading and it does not fail to meet any of the other criteria listed in Sec. 403. Shrimp, for comparison, is listed as ‘Shrimp’ on most ingredient declarations even though there are hundreds of different species.
- “must be raised specifically for human food following current Good Manufacturing Practices” – I don’t think its coincidence that raised for human food and GMP’s are grouped together. My understanding is that most farms raise insects for pet feed and do not follow GMP’s. Keep in mind they are not mutually exclusive. If you follow GMP’s for human food, you are OK to distribute for food or feed. Commodity corn is diverted every which way. If current insect farms use GMP’s they can distribute insect for food and divert to feed if needed. To recap: Must use GMPs? – Yes, and therefore it is suitable for human consumption a long as other requirements are met.
- “They cannot be ‘wildcrafted’ – Unfounded in science. Regulations state that food must be wholesome and not contain any deleterious substances. Disease and pesticides can be measured analytically, and if found, the product can be removed from the supply stream. Specifically, a risk assessment can be performed for common hazards such as pathogens, natural toxins, pesticides, and other contaminants and a monitoring program can be established. Seafood provides another great point of reference. There are a lot of hazards associated with wild caught fish and the risks are managed accordingly. The Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidance document can be applied to wild insects! For example: a plot of land can be disengaged for wild grasshopper farming. With the surrounding area monitored for pesticides, a farmer can reason that there are not any pesticides in the cultivated area or in their grasshoppers.
- “The manufacturer also needs to demonstrate the “wholesomeness” of the product” – Yes… insects have an outstanding nutritional profile.
- Allergens comment – Unfounded in law. The FDA requires only the ‘Big 8’ allergens be stated on the label. It is not scientifically conclusive that insects are an allergen. But because they likely are, the industry best practice is to include an allergy warning statement.
Next Step: As I feel that the FDA’s responses are akin to a guidance document, Im going to email the FDA and request an update. I think you should too.