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Edible insect industry in limbo due to post-Brexit trade law confusion

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Companies that want to sell edible insects say they are left in limbo due to confusion over post-Brexit trade law.

The industry has earned 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 was hoping to sell bug-based burgers, sausages and curries through her company Be Bugs at Glastonbury Festival this year.

She told the PA news agency: “We have a five-star hygiene rating, which is excellent. But of course we weren’t surprised when we got our reply from Glastonbury.

“They had to contact my local authority, and they (council) understood that the bugs are illegal.”

“There is always the risk that they will close us down”

Aaron Thomas, who runs north London meal kit delivery company Yum Bug, said: “There’s always a risk of us being closed down.

“We just had an inspection from our local environmental health officer [EHO] but… you may have a conversation with a different EHO or someone more senior in your office who maybe has a different take on bugs in general, maybe they haven’t had as much experience and say ‘Not really, I I think you should close the company.'”

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 insect industry and while traders from Europe were able to continue, UK traders were not.

A decision from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is expected in June, which could allow companies 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 insects is safe, although evaluation could take up to 18 months.

‘We have complete confidence that they are safe’

Nick Rousseau, director of the Woven Network, said that before the new EU regulations, people could freely eat and trade insect products in the UK “fully legitimately for many years”.

He added: “We have complete confidence that they are safe.

“FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the world, says they’re safe, as long as their farming and product development practices don’t introduce contaminants or other risks. So, inherently, they’re edible.”

Michael Wight, FSA’s head of food safety policy, said: “We are aware that edible insects, as part of the alternative protein market, can offer benefits, particularly to the environment.”

He added: “We are working hard to support and advise companies and trade bodies so that they can provide high-quality dossiers and evidence as part of their novel food applications.”

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