Some Food Regulators Fret Needlessly Over Eating Bugs

Cicada season reminds us that insects are a great food source for humans.


This month, as much of the East Coast of the United States is inundated by the once-every-17-year spectacle of cicadas known as Brood X, some people are trying to figure out how to get rid of them. Experts say such efforts are futile.

But others, Old Bay seasoning in hand, are fighting the good fight. They're frying up batches of cicadas and eating them like French fries.

Spurred no doubt by the buzz around cicada dishes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week cautioned that people should not eat cicadas if they are allergic to seafood because, the agency notes, cicadas are related to shellfish—a known allergen—such as lobsters. (Notably, this was the agency's second cicada-related warning in a week.)

While one Twitter commenter joked about the FDA's warning to people with a "tree shrimp allergy," another commenter—me, actually—pushed back against the FDA warning in a lengthy thread. Though the FDA got its warning wrong—TLDR: not all seafood is shellfish—the agency generally isn't an enemy to those who would eat insects.

Sure, traditionally, regulatory bodies such as the FDA have viewed insects not as food but, rather, as pests and adulterants. As I detailed in a 2018 column on regulatory threats to the otherwise bright future of insects as food, agency rules known as the "Food Defect Action Levels" identify and permit certain quantities and types of insects to be present in some foods. For example, I noted that the frozen orange juice you buy at your local grocer may legally contain some fruit flies, fly eggs, or maggots.

Though the FDA's Food Defect Action Levels treat those bugs as unwanted and illicit surprises, rules in the United States are generally quite good for those who sell bugs intentionally as food.

That's not true everywhere. Last month, a company that wants to market dried yellow mealworms became just the first in the European Union to obtain approval for insects-as-food under the E.U.'s "novel" food regulations.

While the approval is a welcome development, classifying bugs as a "novel" food places a tremendous burden on those who would market them. The E.U. isn't alone. As The Guardian reported last week, "the U.K.'s fledgling edible insect sector" is under threat thanks to changes in the way the British government will regulate insects as food in the wake of Brexit.

That's because the E.U. has in place "transitional" rules for approving and regulating what it considers "novel" foods, and the U.K. does not. That, plus some regulatory intransigence in the U.K., leaves purveyors of edible insects (and products made with them) stuck in limbo.

None of this makes sense. First and foremost, insects are a perfect example of a food that isn't "novel" at all.

"People have evolved eating insects: they are part of our biological and cultural history; to classify them as 'novel' is inconsistent," Tilly Collins, a senior fellow with the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, told The Guardian. "It will prevent us from benefiting from this environmentally superior form of meat."

"The use of insects as an alternate source of protein is not new, and insects are regularly eaten in many parts of the world," E.U. regulators declared while, again, still classifying insects as "novel" foods.

Wherever you stand on eating insects, some Western regulators' trepidations over edible bugs likely amuse the rest of the world. For example, grasshoppers are a common food in parts of Indonesia. The practice of raising insects for food is increasingly common across the globe. And, despite public perception, insects are also a longstanding part of the American diet. Native Americans have eaten bugs for countless generations. While in college in Washington, D.C., I sometimes snacked on bugs (as bar snacks) and, more recently, chowed down on some tasty chili-lime grasshoppers—known as chapulines in Mexico—that I bought at a Seattle Mariners game.

There are great reasons to eat bugs: they are inexpensive, environmentally sustainable, tasty, and a great source of protein, fat, and fiber.

Earlier this year, while noting those benefits and more, the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a report on food safety and edible insects. As the report details, insects may carry many of the same risks found in other foods—including germs and other contaminants. The FAO, while urging more research into food safety, recommends countries adopt clear rules that facilitate the marketing of insects as food.

As the FAO report also makes clear, edible insects are regulated far more stringently in countries and regions where they are not traditionally consumed than in those where they are consumed regularly. The fact edible insects are not tightly regulated in countries where they're popular suggests bugs are safe to eat without being subject to a host of regulations, and that regulations in bug-phobic countries may be dampening their popularity artificially without providing any food-safety benefits. That's a shame.

As is so often the case, regulations—in this case, mostly those in the U.K. and E.U.—stifle the adoption of new and traditional food choices alike. Governments should regulate insects lightly, and treat them as they would any other food.

NEXT: The Bipartisan Antitrust Crusade Against Big Tech

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Wtf is wrong with you assholes?

    1. Normalizing bug eating and pod living has to start somewhere… And I like Chile-dusted fried chapulines.

      1. Alex Jones taught me there is a UN globalist plot to get all to start eating insects. That’s how I know the FDA is using reverse psychology on us.

        1. Does Alex Jones accuse the FDA of turning the insects Gay?

  2. If you think you have never eaten an insect, you haven’t looked closely enough at your food.

      1. Wasn’t that part of the theme of the movie The Hellstrom Chronicle?

    1. CHow in the navy always included bugs. We’d go through the chow line and populate the usual compartmented tray with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns. Pick up a banana from the fruit table. And pick up half a dozen of those little cereal boxes.

      You’d save the cereal boxes for last. Dump one into your bowl; if you saw weevils, you dumped it out on your tray, and try the next box. If you did not see the weevils, you left it alone, no point in stirring it up, or you’d see them. Add the awful sterilized milk and plenty of sugar. Eat without looking too closely. Try the next box. You’d usually get 2-3 boxes without seeing the weevils, but you always assumed they were in every box, just perhaps not enough to be obvious.

      1. Lol. Are you a specops commando on this sock as well, cytotoxic, or only on your Depresso Liber sock?

      2. Don’t you know that in the Navy you are required to choose the lesser of two weevils?

        1. Groan.

  3. Indonesia harvests grasshoppers for food.

    Will I be accused of cultural appropriation if I eat bugs?

    1. Yes. And you will also be accused of killing the planet if you don’t eat bugs

      1. You will also be accused of killing the planet if you do eat bugs, and racism if you don’t [not good enough for you?]

      2. Yeah, accused by the same sort of busybody sh*theads who want to tell me what to do in every single aspect of my life. I habitually ignore anything people like that have to say.

    2. Indonesia also does their best to rob orangutans of the very few scraps of forest they have left to live in, just so they can maximize the production of palm oil, which is a gross ingredient in gross, over-processed foods.

      So I really won’t be taking any food cues from Indonesia anytime soon.

  4. Imagine being such a snowflake you’re offended by the FDA putting out a cautionary warning about eating cicadas.

    Good grief- get a life.

    1. HA HA HA HA HA
      You are funny.

    2. Cool. Now do unapproved experimental vaccines that are mandatory.

      1. Christ dude they are approved. The distinction between an ema and a full approval does not mean lesser safety standards. It means, well, we are in an emergency, which the past year was in case you haven’t noticed.

      2. Not only are they apporved, but they are approved faster because we have better knowledge of the genomes of humans and viruses. And if they are mandatory, why is there such a thing as ‘vaccine hesitancy?’ Please try to keep up…with objective reality.

    3. Your are aware the Past Year shows that the FDA regulations caused more harm than good.

      How much is the FDA or UN paying you

    4. The FDA doesn’t need to put out such a warning to me. I am quite naturally repulsed by the idea of sonsciously eatin bugs. Only the FDA’s ondescending to do so is more repugnant.

  5. You’ll own nothing, eat sustainable bugs, and be happy.

    1. What, no soma?

      1. Jeez, look at Mister Too Good For Legal Weed over here!

      2. You weren’t paying attention. Undesireables eat bugs, soma is for citizens.

    2. Literally this. They aren’t even making an attempt to veneer their Marxist porn anymore.

  6. “The libertarian case for living in urban pods.”

    1. Coming soon, The libertarian case for soylent green.

      1. As long as it’s gluten-free.

  7. If I really wanted to embrace personal sustainability, can I live off the fleas and lice on my own body?

  8. I have eaten bugs and worms. Actually they are not bad. If you took a “Careful” look at your flour or baking meal, and you happen to notice some dark brown specks in there…well that is bits of bugs. The FDA does allow some bits and pieces in our foods. Bugs are quite healthy.

    1. That’s why you sift it first.

      Secondly, ‘allows some bits and pieces’ doesn’t mean ‘bits and pieces that are visible and all over it’.

    2. When you buy a bag of flour put it in the freezer for 24 hours. You’ll still have the bugs but they wont be moving around anymore.

    3. Uh, when you see them hopping, that’s when you know someone’s left the box or bag open and you throw the shit out. You want them, have them, but hard pass for me.

  9. Eating bugs is gross. But if you want to, feel free.

    1. I eat squid and octopus regularly, and I’ve sampled snails and frog legs, so this would be something I’d try. Still hope to try alligator.

      1. Alligator was a disappointment for me.

        1. Yeah it’s only OK. Like extra stinky chicken crossed with not-so-tender pork.

          I’ve eaten bugs. They have a big festival about that in one of my favorite towns in Mexico every year. When in Rome, right? Still gross.

          I always like to try whatever the locals are eating when I’m out travelling. But, I’ll take an open-faced pickled herring and black bread sandwich in Denmark over some deep-fried crickets in Taxco.

          1. I’m not Danish, but that sandwich actually sounds good.

      2. That manacing looking octopus on the intro to the Marvel cartoon Prince Namor The Submariner was enough to yuck me out of eating squid or octopus…not to mention that squids squirt ink.

    2. And when you think about it, it’s no more gross that shrimp, lobster, crabs and whatever else has too many legs.

      1. I’m no fan of corndogs or churros, but my kids love them. I wouldn’t pretend they’re some sort of transcendental source of nutrition that’s going to revolutionized agriculture and save the planet like many bug-eating, Borlaug-wannabes do.

      2. George Carlin always said when he sees a lobster, he thought: “STEP ON THAT FUCK!!! GET THE BIG BUG! GET THE BIG BUG!…BEFORE IT REACHES THE CHILDREN!!!”

        My qualms about lobster is that it is too much work getting to the meat. I’ll work to earn my supper, but not to eat it. They need to make GMO shell-free lobsters, as well as other crustaceans.

  10. Horse meat, on the other hand……

  11. https://twitter.com/disclosetv/status/1401136348069834755?s=19

    JUST IN – G7 finance ministers agree on a global minimum tax of at least 15%, tackling corporate tax avoidance by big tech companies.

    1. Where do they stand on eating bugs?

      1. If you were standing outside the door you could hear them say “Let them eat bugs”.

  12. Heh. Our Enlightened™ future. Good luck with that.

  13. My wife informed me of a restaurant in Socal which sells out its “cicada tacos” every day before noon. The local government told them to stop using “locally sourced” cicadas and now they are importing them from Asia.

    Stupid government.

    I had some barbecued crickets a few years ago. Not bad.

    1. We used to go to a Mexican restaurant that had spicy crickets as an appetizer. They were OK, but they really should have removed the legs, as they would occasionally get stuck between one’s teeth.

      1. Funny you should mention that. A friend of my fathers, who spent time in a Japanese POW camp in WW2 said the most common meal was rice with grasshoppers. His only complaint was, besides being bland, that the legs would scratch his throat going down.

        1. Wonder, why not remove them? Maybe it’s easier said than done, like removing the spine from a shrimp.

          1. I am thinking that half-starved POWs were more concerned about eating than aesthetics. And yeah, I imagine it was a pain, and pretty time-consuming.

            1. As much I am revolted by the prospect of eating bugs, on this past Memorial Day, on D-Day yesterday, on Veteran’s Day, and every time I meet a Veteran, I salute them for their service and for the horrible things they often endured, including eating bugs.

              U.S. Army Secial Forces, Navy S.E.A.L.s, Delta Force Members, Marine Elites, and Pilots in all Branches of the Armed Forces, are “trained to live off nature’s land” like the Sargent Barry Sadler song “The Green Berets” said. Colonel Troutman said in the movie First Blood that John J. Rambo was trained to “eat things that would make a billy goat puke.”

              To a lesser degree, conventional members of the Armed Forces, are also taught via Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (S.E.R.E.) manuals that they face the possibility of eating unusual foods in the wild or in captivity as P.O.W.s. All the more reason to give these people love and respect for what they do.

  14. I highly recommend all liberals and liberaltarians eat bugs for their regular meals and really live up the environitwit lifestyle.

  15. You know who else was overly fretful about dietary matters?

    1. If you really give a shit, SQRLSY.

      1. Don’t give SQRLSY any more shit, please. At the request of his dietician.


    2. For himself and his henchmen, not for his victims?

  16. I have to wonder why the sudden push all over the media – apparently including even ‘libertarian’ media – for eating bugs.

    1. Because we need something to replace our traditional sources of protein after the Paris Accord kicks into high gear. Food innovation! We’ll always find a way around your regulation, see? We can eat bugs! Take that Big Government!

      1. “The Libertarian Case For Being A Post-Apocalyptic Scavenger Under The Bootheel of Totalitarians”

      2. If eating bugs ever became popular, there would be U.S.D.A. programs paying people to not raise bugs to keep the prices artificially high.

  17. Agammamon, it happens every 17 years because it’s Big Silverware’s only marketing opportunity for sterling cicada forks.


    Reason is now LITERALLY pushing the fucking you WILL eat the bugs memes. Jesus Tapdancing Fucking Christ, you just can’t make this shit up.

  19. If the last year has shown us anything, it’s that we can always trust the media on any subject when they mysteriously and unanimously come to agreement on it.

  20. Eight Ohio HS football coaches fired for forcing Jewish player to eat pork. Are bugs kosher?


    1. Apparently there are some species of grasshopper that are kosher but since authorities can’t agree on which they are observant Jews don’t eat any insects.

    2. Actually, according to Wikipedia, the so-called “Manna from Heaven” that the Israelites were said to have eaten when they were said to be in the Sinai Peninsula has been described by some as either plant lichen, crystallized honeydue of certain scale insects, or even formed by aphids.

      I’ve read also that locusts and grasshoppers also shed their scales, so Manna could be this too.

      John The Baptist was alleged to have lived off of locusts and carab in the wildreness. And I’ve heard one jacklegged preacher actually claim that Manna was Angel Food Cake falling from the sky. (He must had a Dolly Madison or Twinkies route as a regular gig.) 🙂

      Whatever Manna is, Kosher or not, that’s a pretty shitty variety of quisine from JHVH-1. It’s not even included in the Passover Seder or food of other Jewish celebrations or in traditional Jewish delis and bagelries. If the Hebrew people bitched about eating it for 40 years of wandering around lost, that’s good enough advice for me.

  21. Honey is insect vomit.

    It’s just about what you’re used to.

    1. Honey doesn’t require a big media push to make people eat it.

      1. Because people aren’t used to it in this country, while other countries are used to it. Almost like what people like or don’t like is culturally arbitrary.

    2. I bet Pooh never would have got stuck in the Hunny Tree if he knew that.

  22. I don’t think I could crunch on bugs like Anthony Bourdain, but grind them into protein flour and I’ll try ’em into a smoothie.

  23. I’ll eat some tree shrimp right after I get done cuddling and kissing a chicken.

    1. It’s less wrong than anything SPB does.

  24. Some time ago, I read of a study where a group of strict vegas who were from India, but living in the UK developed deficiences. A group living in India with the same diet had no deficiencies. One theory put forth is that there was enough insect matter in the food supply in India to remedy the deficiencies. Cockroach milk is supposed to be really nourishing

    1. Yeah, you can have all the cicadas, cockroaches, and beetles you want. If you want to, fine, but like a lot of other things I’ve heard coming from progtards lately (not owning a car, not getting to choose where you live, not having more than one child) you know that what they’re really saying here is you WILL be eating bugs.

    2. Cockroach milk is supposed to be really nourishing

      This is/was misleading. It’s a narrowly-true scientific fact extrapolated by nutritional retards. It’s more energy dense than cow’s milk, which, considering cow’s milk is ~90% water, isn’t saying much. It’s a complete protein, which, again given the untold multitudes of complete proteins, isn’t saying much. Production-wise, it’s not even remotely viable unless you modify yeast to produce it for you (and, once again, there are lots and lots of better things the yeast could produce). Far easier to keep chickens, let them harvest the cockroach milk (and other nutrition sources) for you and then eat the chicken meat which is far more energy dense.

      It was deigned a superfood by people who think the secret to living to 120 yrs. old is kale and juice cleanses.

      1. Craig Ferguson was a big advocate of Kale balls (frozen like sherbet and scooped into balls, presumably.) However, he hasn’t reached the 120 year mark, so I guess research is continuing.

    3. Some time ago, I read of a study where a group of strict vegas who were from India, but living in the UK developed deficiences.
      Wasn’t there a Techno-Dance group called The Dirty Vegas who did that song on the auto commercial “Days Go By?”

      A group living in India with the same diet had no deficiencies. One theory put forth is that there was enough insect matter in the food supply in India to remedy the deficiencies. Cockroach milk is supposed to be really nourishing.

      So where do I get a little milking bench and little tin bucket?

  25. There are many things in the world and we should not think that all these are food for us! The funny gif will let them know how to improve the quality life! Some foods are really harmful for the human health and we should avoid this!

  26. I don’t have a problem eating bugs or with people who do. My problem is with the people who outright lie about the nutritional value, environmental impact, or both and subsequently try to pass off bugs as a foundational part of the human diet or as policy.

    The societies *throughout history* that eat bugs as a primary or predominant nutrition source didn’t do so because they had human rights, agricultural production, environmental regulation, toiletry and sanitation, etc., etc. figured out.

  27. You had me until the undeniably-subjective “tasty”

  28. Spurred no doubt by the buzz around cicada dishes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week cautioned that people should not eat cicadas if they are allergic to seafood because, the agency notes, cicadas are related to shellfish—a known allergen—such as lobsters.

    Does this mean Jordan Peterson will change his diet to a “Beef, Booze, and Bug” diet?

  29. Yeah, it’s all crunchy fried good fun until we find out that cicadas carry zoonotic diseases. Fauci is probably funding gain-of-function research on cicadas even as we speak.

  30. Can’t we feed the bugs to the hogs…and then just eat the hogs?

  31. the Food and Drug Administration ….Thank you for posting such a great information wmlink 2step

  32. I have seen that every person wants to express their feelings but they are not able to express their feelings properly in words but the content you have written in your post is very beautiful, it seems that you have expressed your feelings Has expressed. Hi, you are a person who writes a very beautiful post, in the same way, you keep writing new posts in your life, our best wishes are with you.

Please to post comments