Mealworms, whole or as powder in pasta, have become the first insect-based food approved by the EU's food safety watchdog. The EU Commission has yet to endorse the decision.
Mealworms got approval for EU plates Wednesday from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), based in Italy's city of Parma — better known for its tasty pasta, tomatoes, ham and cheese.
Actually larvae of the darkling beetle (Tenebrio molitor) and typically fed to pet reptiles and fish, the yellow grubs could soon be the first "novel food" cleared for sale across the EU, assuming the European Commission adds its endorsement.
Two EU nations, Austria and Germany, already have special dispensations for insect-based snacks.
Answer to food insecurity?
Around the world, thousands of insects are potential candidates —prompting the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2013 to speculate that "eating insects can help tackle food insecurity."
Insects: Our future food?
Fed even on bio-waste, insects used significantly less water than livestock, and could be farmed more easily, said the FAO.
"For example, pigs produce 10-100 times more greenhouse gases per kilogram (pound) than mealworms," the UN agency said.
Experts warn that some insect species could become extinct globally over the coming decades — largely due to habitat loss as land is converted to intensive agriculture, as well as urbanization and the use of pesticides.
The EU's EFSA cautioned Wednesday that insect proteins were sometimes overestimated and a watch had be kept for potential allergies.