There have been reports in the press recently about the approval of insects as an ingredient in the human food chain. I have no objection to people eating insects – John the Baptist famously lived on locusts and wild honey – but I’d like to know what’s on my plate. Incidentally, insect ingredients in food are not new, the red dye cochineal (E120, E124) has long been used as a food colouring and I believe E904 is shellac, used as a glaze on some sweets. I asked our supermarkets and here are my questions and their responses:
I’ve recently seen a news report that the EU has approved the use of crickets as a food ingredient for humans, and that it has already approved mealworms and two other insects:
Please can you tell me:
- Will you be including the above or any other insects in the food & drink you sell? If your answer is different for branded or own-brand products, please say.
- If you will be including insects in what you sell, will products containing them be clearly labelled, so I can make an informed choice to buy or not? I believe this would be an extension of labelling items as suitable for vegan, vegetarian, halal, or kosher diets. How will your food & drink be labelled?
- Where you buy in products from suppliers, such as bread, tinned food, and ready meals, what steps will you take to ensure your suppliers clearly identify any use of insects or insect products in their products, and how will this be made known to your shoppers?
Aldi – Days to reply – 1
A quick response, very efficient!
Thank you for your email regarding the concerns of Aldi introducing any insects to our food products, I appreciate the time taken to do so.
At present we have no plans to introduce products containing insects however if we did as with all of our products we sell we would have to disclose all ingredients on the packaging and appropriate labelling, I would believe branded product companies would have to do the same.
Should any products contain insects as with all animal derived products, they would have to be labelled to advise if they are suitable for vegans etc.
I hope this goes some way to answer your queries and once again, thank you for contacting Aldi.
Waitrose – Days to reply – 6
Thank you for your patience whilst I have been looking into this for you.
We have just heard back from our Technologists and Buyers and they have advised that us that we do not use crickets within our range and we don’t have any plans to do so.
I do hope that this has clarified our position for you and if you do need anything else, please do get in touch;
ASDA – Days to reply – 11
Initial response gave the customer service call-centre phone number.
Sorry to hear that you were cut off when you tried to contact our customer contact centre. However, I have received a response from our Own Brand team.
The legislation you refer to (being EU legislation) is not yet law in the UK. However, I understand that the legislation is currently subject to consultation in the UK, and therefore, may come into law later this year. Asda currently have no plans to introduce insects into product formulation this year for its own brand products.
As regards your query in relation to branded products, you would need to contact individual brands and food manufacturers to understand their plans.
LIDL – Days to reply – 18
We are writing to you in relation to your recent enquiry regarding the use of Insect components in our food products.
To confirm, we do not sell any products that contain insect components in our own label range, and do not currently have any plans to introduce insect components as food.
We would also like to reassure you that Lidl complies with all existing laws and regulations, and we clearly label ingredients on all of our product packaging to ensure that our customers can make informed purchase decisions.
We hope you find this information helpful and that you will remain a valued Lidl customer.
M&S – Days to reply – 19
Thanks for getting in touch.
We currently have no plans to use insects in any of the food we sell, but I can assure you if we did this would be clearly labelled on packaging.
Morrisons – Days to reply – 19
Thank you for getting in touch and for the information you provided. I forwarded your query to our compliance department who have advised It is our Trading and Development teams that decide on the formulations for Morrisons own label products, so we can’t advise on the first point. We can
however confirm that all the ingredients that we sell are labelled in accordance with applicable legislation and as such will be always be declared clearly in the ingredients list on the label.
Our vegetarian and vegan policies prohibit the use of these logos on products containing such ingredients and we do not currently label for Halal or Kosher suitability.
Regarding supplier controls, we have a detailed specification for all our own label products specifying all ingredients that are used in the recipe, and we audit our supplier sites on a regular basis to ensure there are sufficient controls in place to prevent cross contamination. In addition, all our suppliers are BRC accredited.
We can’t advise on branded products however as these are developed with no involvement from Morrisons. We advise customers to contact individual
brands for this information.
Sainsburys – Days to reply – 19
Interesting that Aldi answered off the bat but Sainsbury’s kicked the question up the food chain to their executive’s office. Plus points for mentioning mealworms in birdfood.
Thank you for your patience whilst I looked into this fully.
I can confirm we do not sell any Own Brand products for human consumption that contain insects.
For the brands we sell we have clear requirements within our business, and we follow a “branded approval process” and the same legislative requirements apply to label all ingredients on the packaging.
Regarding the sale of insects, we currently do include mealworms in our bird feed, however this is not for human consumption.
For any products in the future that we sell we follow relevant legislation. All ingredients are labelled on pack and any insects within the product would be declared in the ingredients list so our customers can make an informed choice.
Hope the above gives you clarity and reassurance.
Tesco – Days to reply – 28
Tesco also kicked my question upstairs and bring up the rear with this answer.
Thank you so much for your patience whilst I was looking into this.
At Tesco we are committed to making sure our food labelling and information is open, honest and fair in order that they are not misleading to our customers. All ingredients used are listed clearly on our products.
We do not currently range any products with edible insects as an ingredient. In the UK, most edible insects require a novel food authorisation before they can be used, which most insects and products made using them currently do not have. The novel food authorisations recently published by the EU only apply to the sale of those products in the EU. For eg. (EU) 2023/5 authorised the placement of Acheta domesticus (house cricket) partially defatted powder as a novel food; in doing so EU has also laid down detailed guidelines about which food category it can be included in, its maximum levels and it should be labelled as ‘Acheta domesticus (house cricket) partially defatted powder’ and an allergen statement ‘this ingredient may cause allergic reactions to consumers with known allergies to crustaceans, molluscs, and products thereof, and to dust mites’.
For branded products it’s the responsibility of the brands to meet their legal requirements to have all the ingredients clearly listed on the label, but if you have questions about specific brands or products, we would suggest that you contact them directly.
I do hope this answers your questions and thank you again for taking the time to contact us
The responses can be summarised as ‘We do not currently have any plans, but if we did the ingredients would be fully labelled’. I am sort of reassured by this, and by the fact that at least two of the supermarkets took my question seriously enough to kick it upstairs before answering.
Before starting this exercise I didn’t know cochineal was an insect product, but there is a decent list of E numbers and what they mean here:
Approved additives and E numbers
There is also a Wikipedia article on E numbers, which explains the numbering system:
A glass of E1510 might be in order…
© Jim Walshe 2023