The opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has put forward a bill which would require separate labeling and product placement of foodstuffs which include insect ingredients.
This refers to commercially available processed foodstuffs on sale in Estonia and which contain insect-derived ingredients, rather than the consumption of whole insects, either in those parts of the world where they are widely available as food, or in the course of military or similar survival training.
The high protein content, measure for measure, that insects contain is one factor in their use commercially.
MP Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) told parliament's Rural Affairs Committee that there is no tradition in Estonia or in Europe of eating insects, while the idea is repugnant to many people, and such ingredients can even be harmful to health.
Põlluaas said: "Consuming food made from insects or containing insect ingredients can either lead to health risks or is not ethically acceptable to people. Insects used as food can cause allergic reactions, especially in people who are allergic to crustaceans, dust mites and other species."
The head of the food safety department at the Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture, Pille Tammemägi, also gave the committee an an overview of the EU and domestic rules relating to the special labeling and sale of insects as foods and products containing insect-derived components.
This is covered under the EU novel foods legislation, she said.
"Novel foods constitute a food or food ingredient that had not been consumed as human food to a significant extent within the EU prior to May 15, 1997," which would include insects.
"Novel foods may be marketed in the EU only when they have been authorized by the European Commission. Prior to this authorization being granted, the safety of the novel food in question is assessed, by obtaining the opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)," Tammemägi went on.
Henn Põlluaas meanwhile said that foods containing insect ingredients should be clearly labeled as such, and not just in the small print.
"In several countries, there is a requirement that if an insect ingredient has been used in the food, this must be distinctly labeled," the MP said, citing Hungary, where, he said, foods containing insect proteins must be labeled with a warning and must stocked separately from other goods on the shelves
The rural affairs committee's chair, Urmas Kruuse (Reform), asked Põlluaas in turn which basic or essential foodstuffs contain insect flour. Põlluaas replied that this is not an issue in Estonia at present, but several companies have shown interest in bringing such products to the market.
Maido Ruusmann (Reform) then asked Põlluaas about his party's motivation for submitting the bill, and whether the requirement to place such items on separate shelves is not a disproportionately strong response.
Põlluaas said this derived from an EU implementation regulation and the approval of food with various insect additives on the market so far.
He rejected the claim of disproportionality.
Pille Tammemägi had told the committee there are more precise information requirements arising from the novel food permits as granted to the insect-derived product, including descriptions of the ingredients used and information that of the risk of allergic reactions to consumers with allergies to crustaceans, molluscs or dust mites.
In Romania, for instance, Tammemägi noted, there is a legal requirement for the separate placement of such foods in-store, but no requirement for distinct labeling.
The Rural Affairs Committee decided to put EKRE's draft bill on the agenda of the Riigikogu plenary session taking place on Tuesday, October 17.
Processed foods which include insect-derived ingredients and which are produced in the EU and in North America include protein bars, insect bread (for instance Sirkkaleipä, in Finland), and even insect-based beer and ice-cream.
Editor: Andrew Whyte