By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Houseflies, crickets and silkworms can be safe, nutritious and more environmentally friendly alternatives to chicken, beef or pork, research carried out for the European Commission finds.
Still, they are less likely to be found on European restaurant menus than in animal feed, carefully controlled to prevent the kind of prions, or abnormal proteins, blamed for mad cow disease.
The Commission, the EU executive, is working on revised legislation on novel foods, after a previous proposal failed because of opposition to animal cloning.
It asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to research the safety of eating insects.
In a scientific opinion published on Thursday, EFSA said the use of insects as a source of food and feed potentially had important environmental, economic and food security benefits.
Farming of insects can lead to lower emissions of greenhouse gases and ammonia than cattle or pigs and higher efficiency in converting feed to protein, the report said.
"How and to what extent the inclusion of insects in gastronomy can impact the general consumption pattern in the population is unclear but (it) holds the potential for a rapid change in future consumption patterns," EFSA's report said.
Belgian supermarket operator Delhaize in 2014 introduced tapenades based on mealworms in its Belgian supermarkets, but they were not a hit.
"We opted not to have any visible insects in the products to lower the initial reluctance but even then we saw that the customer wasn't ready for it," a spokesman said.
Insect species believed to have the greatest potential for human food or animal feed in the European Union include houseflies, mealworms, crickets and silkworms.
Especially in paste or other processed forms, they are considered as alternatives to mainstream animal sources of food such as chicken, pork, beef and fish as well as useful for animal feed.
In the event whole insects are distributed as food, they would be expected to undergo some processing, such as chilling and drying, and would be labeled with instructions for use.
In some cases, parts of the insect, such as the wings and legs of crickets, should be removed "to improve the eating experience and reduce choking risks," EFSA said, drawing a comparison with peeling prawns.
(Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Mark Potter)