The migratory locust: that’s what for dinner

On November 12, the European Commission, which is in a way the executive branch of the European Union (EU), officially approved the sale of the migratory locust as food. This is only the second insect to see approval for food use. It won’t be the last.

The migratory locust is a grasshopper, like all locusts; the word “locust” applies to certain species of grasshoppers which occasionally undergo large outbreaks. It is found throughout the Eastern Hemisphere, in temperate regions of Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. It is also present in Europe, although it is not as widespread there as it once was. It is of moderate concern as an agricultural pest; other locust species were responsible for the devastating swarms in East Africa last year, although the migratory locust caused extensive damage in the southern part of the continent.

Migratory locusts, like many other species of grasshoppers and crickets, are fairly widely eaten; this particular species has long been a part of the diets in parts of Zambia, Cameroon, Botswana and several other countries in central and southern Africa, as well as in some Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and the Philippines. They are also quite tasty, described as being similar to other grasshoppers in terms of flavor, a bit of nutty and savory.

In EU member countries, however, there is little to no recorded history of the Migratory Locust being a part of the diet. So the EU, after a study conducted this summer, found locusts to be safe for consumption (which was already perfectly well known) and, in a curious formulation, “not nutritionally disadvantageous”, declared that the migratory locust would be legal for sale in its member states. as part of a “novel food” program. This is only new for the EU, of course.

This is the second approval in the last year of insects as food for humans, the first being the mealworm. The locust approval came after a Dutch company applied for permission to sell its locust control products in Europe. While you could somehow find insect foods and ingredients in EU countries, this was due to some ambiguity in EU rules which seemed to leave a loophole for whole bugs. (This new approval relates specifically to frozen, dried, or powdered forms of the locust.)

In recent decades, there has been a steady push for more edible insects in many countries where they are currently scarce, including those in Europe and North America (not counting Mexico, which has a long history of making very delicious dishes with insects). The insects are presented as being, to put a more assertive twist on the odd language of the EU, very healthy: rich in protein, fiber and various necessary minerals and vitamins. Insects like the locust are also, according to studies which are mainly based on modeling due to the small commercial nature of insect farming, capable of requiring much less water, insecticide and soil than an equivalent caloric amount of, say, beef.

EU approval of the Migratory Locust as food will not be the last such verdict. According to Washington post, research has already been done on house crickets, although they have not yet been officially approved for sale.

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