Will Poland start eating insects?
Recently, the European Union gave the green light to the introduction of two new edible insects. A total of 4 species of insects can already be consumed legally in the EU. But Polish consumers are rather skeptical about introduction of insects in their daily menu and the topic is being discussed between politicians, celebrities and journalists.
Politics & farmers vs insects
In the Polish public debate, allowing insects for human consumption is being framed by some as a threat to agriculture, especially in the long term. The argument is, that instead of supporting traditional agriculture, related to the cultivation of fields, animal husbandry, where milk or meat is produced, it is trying to experiment with some food products that no longer need agriculture.
As with any issue, opinions are divided on the matter of insect consumption.
"This is a very bad decision for the entire EU agriculture.[...] Farmers are not needed to produce insects." - According to Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, chairman of the Council for Agriculture and Rural Areas to the President of the Republic of Poland, former Minister of Agriculture.
"At the organic food fair in Nuremberg, I ate crickets that tasted like chicken. I heard that insect food is liked by athletes, for example." - Mieczyslaw Babalski, organic farmer.
"I don't think such production will threaten our grain producers, because - at least for now - it will be niche. Legumes are also a great source of protein, and it's a pity that the European Union won't make sure that our farmers won't have problems selling these commodities. […] Above all, let's protect the EU market, let's appreciate what we have" believes Piotr Doligalski, vice president of the Polish Grain Crops Producers Association.
An example is the HiProMine company which will start production in organic feed for fish, poultry and pet food. In December 2022 the company announced the construction of a new feed production plant based on insects.
Poland's insect food sector
According to experts, it will take several or even a dozen years for insect products to be widely available on the market. In Poland, there are still few such products, and in other countries commodities such as candy bars or crackers are still niche products. The European Commission's approval of the use of insects or their ingredients in food production will open the way for the design and testing of new products.
"It's up to consumers whether they choose to eat insects or not. The use of insects as an alternative source of protein is not new, and insects are regularly consumed in many parts of the world" - The European Commission notes.
According to professor Małgorzata Nowacka of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, relevant to new products are consumers' habits and their concerns about eating insects. As a result, measures are being taken, such as adding insect flour to products such as cereal, meat, bakery or confectionery products. "The addition of insects in powdered form goes a long way toward overcoming consumers' fear and reluctance to consume such products" - Nowacka noted. According to the expert, insect food is currently not a threat to Polish cattle, pig and poultry farmers. However, Nowacka noted that "there is a general trend of reducing meat consumption".
The first farms to raise edible insects are already being built in Poland. They will be used to produce fodder or flour, among other things. Polish scientists are also already working on an intelligent robot that will greatly facilitate the production of edible insects by assessing their condition and weight.
Polish companies want to use edible insects primarily for feed and feeding insects to chickens does not affect their sensory value, taste or color. An example is the HiProMine company which will start production in organic feed for fish, poultry and pet food. In December 2022 the company announced the construction of a new feed production plant based on insects near Poznan, with co-financing from the Polish Ministry of Development and Technology.
"The addition of insect protein is optimally 15% of the feed volume. With this amount of it, we found no differences in poultry rearing, growth and health," says dr Tadeusz Bakuła of the University of Warmia and Mazury.
Meanwhile, offers to sell insect products for human consumption are increasing in Poland. This is mainly due to online stores that offer a wide selection of products. In traditional trade it is difficult to find insect products, retail chains in Poland do not treat this sector as important, but more like a curiosity.
It wasn't until the end of 2022 that the first products made from insects appeared in Poland in a major retail chain, specifically the company FoodBugs and its protein bars, protein supplements and cricket flour.
"We realized that we would not be able to break down the cultural barriers still present in our country without working with major retail chains and increasing the availability of our products. We are excited about our cooperation. We hope that this is just the beginning of a long-term cooperation and believe that soon our products will be available in stores across Poland." - Patryk Sienkiewicz - CEO of FoodBugs.
Insects are increasingly used in restaurants and bars, especially in large cities. As a rule, it is all about the effect of surprise, standing out from the competition, trying to attract attention. "Consumer reactions vary, mostly they order out of sheer curiosity. Sometimes they repeat the order on subsequent visits." - reports the owner of a bar from Gdansk, which offers insect snacks.
Insect food & consumption in Poland
Probably the biggest controversy among Polish consumers is the possibility of e.g adding cricket powder to a whole range of products. These include pizza, processed foods, soups, crispy snacks, candy bars, etc. The list is really long and includes processed foods.
Such must be included on the product label. And if someone doesn't want to eat insects, they don't have to. You can also be sure that powder from crickets or thrush larvae will not be massively added to food. The reason is not only the niche nature of these products but also their very high price - 1 kg is 230-250 PLN (48.5-53 EUR), and 1 kg of ordinary all-purpose flour is about 4 PLN (0.8 EUR).
There are also formal rules regulating this issue. The EU decision specifies right away the permissible content of this raw material. For example, in multigrain bread there can be a maximum of 2 g of cricket powder per 100 g of product. In bars - 3 g. The most it can be in snacks, chips and meat substitutes (5 g per 100 g) and corn flour-based snacks (4 g per 100 g). So we are talking about small amounts, but this fact alone fires the imagination of consumers.
As with all innovations, especially those laden with cultural bias (such as precisely the consumption of insects in the cultural circle of Central and Eastern Europe), it is the HoReCa industry that takes the first step, followed, if it begins to break through to the mainstream, by the food industry. In Poland, so far insects are tentatively appearing in bars and restaurants, the next few years will show in what direction these changes will go.
The fact is that the average person can eat up to 140.000 pieces or insect particles, per year. In what way? Insects happen to die on the surface of, for example, vegetables or fruits, so we find them in many plant-based products. They can also hide in spice blends or chocolate. Insects are also found in the composition of products, only maybe we don't always realize it, e.g. E120, is cochineal - a dye that gives products a beautiful red color and is obtained from insects (latin: Dactylopius coccus) living on cacti, among others. It can be found, for example, in candies, gums, jellies, as well as cosmetics. Shellac, on the other hand, hiding under the number E904, is nothing but a natural resin, extracted from the secretion of small insects-chewing beetles (latin: Kerria lacca). In food, it plays the role of a glossing agent, and is also supposed to give products an attractive appearance. It is added to chewing gums or jimmies.
Incorporating the possibility of consuming insects and products with or based on them manufactured with proper regulations and procedures to make sure that the food marketed is safe can be an interesting addition to the diet or simply a variety. From a dietary point of view, it makes sense, as insects can be a valuable and effective source of protein in the diet. Depending on the species, protein accounts for 35 % to 60 % of their dry weight. In some cases, this ratio is higher than for eggs or even meat. On the other hand, many questions remain, such as their allergenicity.