From Bio Journal - August 2021

Trend: EU Approves Edible Insects

The EU has begun to make serious moves toward the promotion of insect eating. The first to be approved was the dried mealworm, a larva of the mealworm beetle (Tenebrio molitor). Tenebrionidae beetles have thus far been used to feed small animals such as birds and fish. In February 2018, an application was submitted by a French insect foodstuff manufacturing group, and in January this year, the dried mealworm was approved as safe for human consumption by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In response, the European Commission consulted with the European Union Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF Committee), which approved it on May 3, and the mealworm was formally approved by the European Commission in June. Currently, 11 applications have been submitted for insect foods.

A French company, Ÿnsect, has acquired the Dutch venture firm Protifarm that developed the dried mealworm, and will henceforth manufacture and sell the mealworm.

In Japan, there is nothing new about entomophagy (the consumption of insects), as it has been a part of local food culture used to supplement protein. However, this differs from the current notion of insect consumption. In May last year, Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. caused a stir when it produced and marketed cricket (the insect) rice crackers, this kind of food is being developed as a substitute for meat within the notion of decarbonization, and to cope with future food shortages. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) actively promotes entomophagy in its promotion of food technology as a part of its Green Food System Strategy. This does not protect the food culture of regions, but is one of the pillars of large-scale food production toward which the country as a whole is making efforts, and is actively promoted as a business in which the production will be handled by large corporations.

Ryohin Keikaku's cricket rice crackers, jointly developed by Tokushima University Associate Professor Taro Mito and Tokushima University startup venture Gryllus, is manufactured by kneading powdered two-spotted cricket (Gryllus bimaculatus) into a product. In a separate move, the research group is using genome-editing technology to control cricket moulting hormones with a view to promoting excessive moulting to produce a giant-sized cricket. The trend of the EU and Tokushima University is toward an insect diet that differs from the insect consumption that has been part of the food culture of various regions of Japan, and it is thought that genetically modified insect diets will become the mainstream in the future.

Modified lignin demonstration plant begins operation

A demonstration plant for the production of "modified lignin," an alternative plastic developed by the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute (FFPRI), started trial production on June 30 in Hitachiota City, Ibaraki Prefecture. The modified lignin is expected to find applications in various products as an alternative to plastics in the shift toward decarbonization. The plant will be operated by a consortium of seven companies, including LignoMateria. Lignin, along with cellulose and hemicellulose, is a component of plant skeletons. It is also called woody material, and accounts for 20 to 30% of wood volume. In the plant, Japanese cedar lignin is used as raw material and is modified with polyethylene glycol (PEG). Because lignin is an unwanted nuisance in the pulp and paper industry, research using GM technology has been conducted to reduce lignin biosynthesis. For this reason, lignin and ligninases, enzymes that degrade lignin, are at the forefront of biotechnology research in the field of trees. Going forward, it is thought that GM technology and genome-editing technology will be applied to improve the production efficiency of modified lignin.

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(English Index)