Cricket flour is making its way into protein bars, chips and cookies across the nation. The product’s main marketing point is the high protein level in the flour or powder. But just where does the use of insects fall in the scope of regulation and are producers opening themselves up to litigation? And what will the cricket industry look like a few years down the road?
Any federal food-related insect regulation falls to the FDA. The bulk of the rules pertain to keeping bugs out of food—mostly anyways. The agency oversees Food Defect Action Levels, or the unavoidable amount of insects that end up in food such as chocolate or peanut butter.
The FDA does allow crickets to be used for and in food, under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (Sec. 201(f)). As long as crickets are produced, packaged, stored and shipped in a clean and wholesome way, the FDA allows production and sale. Insects must be raised for the purpose of food, and not caught in the wild. The final label must also include the scientific name of the insect.
Cricket flour is not GRAS certified by the FDA. However, the agency has made no ruling against it and it is still legal for commercial sale. According to the FDA, “a substance is excepted from regulation as a food additive if the substance is generally recognized to be safe (GRAS), among qualified experts.”
Industry experts and entities have put their own stamp of approval on cricket products, creating a self-regulated industry—from farm to store.
Dr. Jarrod Goldin is president of Entomo Farms in Canada, that sells crickets and cricket flour all over America and other parts of the world. He spoke with me about the cricket industry, sharing that their products never have a problem going through customs inspections into the U.S. For cricket flour or products to make it onto the shelves, it must first be thoroughly vetted by investors and supermarkets, Goldin said.
Yesenia Gallardo, CEO of startup cricket company Poda Farms in Portland, OR, told me it has been exciting watching the industry really come together to make sure everyone is operating at the highest level, and ready to back up their growing and producing processes if need be. A federal regulation would add some legitimacy to the industry, but Yesenia said it is an expensive and lengthy process to start.
So what about lawsuits?
A lawsuit on cricket flour’s lack of an FDA GRAS status is highly unlikely, according to Ricardo Carvajal, a lawyer who specializes in FDA, GRAS, and regulation related law.
Although an industry may be slightly more vulnerable, operating under their own determination is not illegal, Carvajal shared with me. Any lawsuits manufactures may encounter for cricket flour is more likely to stem from another complaint, such as false advertising or physical harm from production flaws. Clear labeling to warn of any allergic reactions could also come into play.
Due to the relatively small size of the edible insect industry and client base, and the busy work load of the FDA, Carvajal thinks for now the closest the FDA will come is issuing a non-object letter.
As the bug industry expands, Carvajal said the industry will have to work together to answer questions such as production or sanitation. Any significant growth will depend on the reaction of large supermarket and grocery companies and their decision to carry insect products.
The cricket’s future in the U.S.
The sale of cricket flour is legal in all 50 states. However, local regulations may influence production and manufacturing. Yesenia explained cricket companies are very much in touch with local regulations and municipal governments. In Poda Farms’ case, the local FDA inspector has been very helpful and supportive to their operations.
Goldin said the U.S. has showed a lot of interest in edible insects so far. He is currently in talks with north east state legislators about the economic impact of bug farms in those states. Groups have been working to get more local and widespread regulations passed as well, Goldin shared.
Of course, perhaps the bigger hurdle for crickets and their product producers may be convincing an American culture to eat bugs. However, this small industry has seen quick growth and a lot of interest and product testing, according to Yesenia. The nutritional benefits, along with a sustainable and environmentally-friendly industry is helping win public interest, from Portland to New York.
Want to learn more about the cricket industry’s sustainability and economic impact? Check out this Market Place article, “How Bug Farming is Changing the Food Economy.”