While the use of insects as human food is relatively new in Singapore, several species of edible insects such as silkworm pupae and crickets have traditionally been consumed in parts of Asia. In recent years, the commercial farming of insects for human consumption and livestock feed has been promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) due to its benefits in as a form of sustainable protein, both for human food and for animal feed. The European Union and countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Korea and Thailand have also allowed the consumption of certain insect species.
Roasted crickets and mealworms
How does SFA Regulate Insects for Human Consumption and Animal Feed?
In Singapore, SFA has assessed the safety of insects and has a regulatory framework to ensure that these are safe for consumption. In summary:
The species of insect must be safe and does not produce toxic substances. SFA has an approved list of insects that we have assessed and found safe for humans to eat.
Insects must be farmed in a controlled environment and not harvested from the wild. This is to prevent introduction of diseases, contaminants, and parasites.
The substrate (what the insects eat) must not impart contaminants to the insects. For example, the use of manure and rotten food is not allowed.
The final product must be safe and compliant with SFA’s food regulations.
Guided by SFA’s food safety monitoring programme, we conduct regular inspections, and sampling of both imported insect products as well as local insect farms to ensure that they meet our food safety standards. Food that is found to be non-compliant with our food safety standards will not be allowed for sale.
Labelling of Insect Products
Companies selling pre-packaged food including those containing insects as an ingredient are required to label the product packaging to indicate the true nature of the product. As with other food available in our market, insect products are subjected to food safety testing. Food that is found to be non-compliant with our food safety regulations will not be allowed for sale.
Safety Tips for Consumers
As food safety is a joint responsibility, here are some tips for consumers to protect themselves:
Do not eat insects live or raw as they could harbour food poisoning bacteria and parasites. Thoroughly cook insects e.g. frying, grilling, baking before consumption to destroy these pathogens.
Do not catch and eat wild insects as these could harbour pathogens or be poisonous.
People with shellfish and crustacean allergies may be allergic to insects as well, as some of the same kinds of allergenic proteins are found in insects. Companies selling pre-packaged food including those containing insects as an ingredient are required to label the product packaging to indicate the true nature of the product. As such, consumers may avoid these insect products accordingly should they have concerns over allergens.
Buy only insect food products from SFA-licensed importers, manufacturers and retailers.
About the Author
Herman Teo is a Senior Scientist from the Risk Assessment and Communications Department of the National Centre for Food Science. With a Masters in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the National University of Singapore, his recent work includes the regulatory framework for insects for food and feed, and examining emerging food processing risks.