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The EU wants to ‘make us eat worms’ or ‘we are already eating them’? And what is cochineal?

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Politicians joined the ongoing discussion on the web about the European Union wanting to “force us to eat worms”. There is a lot of falsehood in this message and – above all – ignorance. Because semi-finished products made from insects have been used in the food industry in Poland for a long time. Cochineal, now discovered by some, has been eaten for years.

The topic of “eating worms” heated up Internet users after cricket powder was allowed on the EU food market this year – but over time new threads appeared in the discussion. In January at Konkret24 we denied fake news that, with the consent of the European Union, there will be no information on adding cricket powder to the composition of food products. Now people are writing: about what ingredients are already produced from insects and which will be added to food in Poland. Politicians are already speaking, especially those who are trying to make political capital on this emotional topic.

MEP Robert Biedroń from the Left heard on February 13 in Radio Zet question from the listener: “Why does the European Union want to legalize and force us to eat worms?”. The politician answered the program host Bogdan Rymanowski with a question: “Have you had breakfast today?” When he said that he only drank coffee with milk, Biedroń said: “You’ve already eaten a worm, Mr. Editor.” “I’m sorry, but I don’t know anything about it,” said the astonished Rymanowski.

Robert Biedroń continued: “Cochineal is added to most food products, most cold cuts. It is E120 food coloring, which is produced, among other things, from insects, worms, really.” “Excuse me, in cow’s milk?” Rymanowski asked. “Yes, it may be a novelty for many. For example, when you eat dragees of a well-known brand, there is this cochineal produced from worms and insects” – replied Biedroń.

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“Bad idea”, “looking for sick alternatives to our food”, “introducing vermin under duress”

On the subject of cricket flour, m.in. Sławomir Metzen, head of the New Hope party (former Korwin), which is part of the Confederation. In published on TikTok recording says, among other things, that it is “a bad idea for the European Union to convince us to eat vermin”. IN comment to this material, however, one Internet user wrote: “Please become familiar with the food additive called cochineal and stop producing these idiotic pharmaceuticals.”

The Confederation went even further, and on February 12, on its Twitter profile, it conducted a survey, asking Internet users whether they agreed to “put vermin on the plate under duress”. Most voted against.

On the other hand, the former Minister of Agriculture in the PiS government, and currently the chairman of the Council for Agriculture and Rural Areas in the president’s office, Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, said on Radio PiK that allowing beetle flour for consumption in the European Union, “this domestic beetle that we know from fairy tales, friend of the bee Maja” (…) this is the beginning of a certain path that the European Union opens – eating larvae, worms, insects – both in the form of adults and pupae.” And he added: “I do not underestimate this, because we eat worms it was associated with something bad, with a broken product.”

An example of a false message spread by the Confederation Twitter

In turn, the leader of AgroUnia, Michał Kołodziejczak, asked on Radio Zet on February 14 about insect flour and the EU permit, replied: “Some looking for sick alternatives to our food. We will finish and throw away our production, and we will act for companies that invest in worms “.

In the discussion among Internet users, many repeat fake news that the European Union will introduce a “compulsion to eat worms”. Suggestions have also been made by in entries on the Konfederacja account under the tweet quoted above. But some Internet users ridicule these messages as conspiracy theories, according to which the new EU regulations are the implementation of the NWO, i.e. the New World Order, under which the richest will order the poor to eat insects, e.g. instead of meat or dairy products.

“The dye from the bugs has long been with us”

Internet users more versed in the subject of nutrition remind that Poles and other Europeans ate products derived from insects long before the introduction of flour from crickets into circulation. And they point to the cochineal mentioned by Biedroń. “E120 – Cochineal or carminic acid is made from prepared bodies of insects called Kastoreum – it is added to ice cream”; “E120 cochineal dye from bugs has been with us for a long time and no one protests about it”; “The cochineal dye (E120) is a dark red dye of animal origin. One kilogram of cochineal is obtained from about 155,000 insects” – they explained (original spelling).

Information about the cochineal has been circulating on the Internet for a long time, so the amazement or indignation about the “need to eat insects” seems a bit exaggerated.

An entry about the cactus june dye on the website Deprezentatory.pl from 2010 demotivatory.pl

The EU does not force, but allows the powder

Recall: On January 3, 2023, the European Commission issued a regulation allowing the marketing of partially defatted Acheta domesticus (house cricket) powder as a novel food. Novel foods are products that were not used to a significant extent for consumption by the inhabitants of the European Union before 1997. Previously, the green light was given by the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA). After the tests, he concluded that the consumption of defatted house cricket powder is safe for humans, although there is a concern that it may sensitize people with shellfish and mollusc allergies.

This is not the first time the EU has agreed to put insects on European tables. EU officials previously authorized the release of house cricket, mealworm larvae and migratory locust. All of these insects can be eaten frozen, dried or powdered. Also in January 2023, a permit was issued for the larvae of glossy thrush (in the form of frozen, paste, dried and powdered).

Therefore, the claims about “compulsion to eat worms”, which the EU was supposed to introduce, or the words of Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski that the European Union opens the way to “eating larvae, worms, adult insects and pupae”, are not true. The latest decisions are only about allowing the addition of cricket flour to the products specified in the regulation, including bread, pizza, sauces and soups.

The regulation also mentions the maximum amount of insect powder in 100 g of each of these products. The most may be in snacks, chips and meat substitutes (5 g per 100 g) and snacks based on cornmeal (4 g per 100 g). Magdalena Wolska from the Department of Agricultural and Food Law at the Institute of Legal Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences stated in an interview with Konkret24 that “they will be small amounts, difficult to taste”.

We unknowingly eat up to a kilo of insects

Is it really – as Ardanowski stated – “the beginning of a new road”? Haven’t Poles eaten insects in the products they eat before? As veterinarian Remigiusz Gałęcki from the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn writes in his work on mealworm: “The average consumer consumes, knowingly or unknowingly, about one kilogram of various insects per year.” How is this possible?

Doctor Justyna Bylinowska, editor-in-chief of the Dietetyki.org.pl website, in an interview with Konkret24, clarifies that although it may seem shocking, we must realize how many worms there are, for example, in the grain from which bread is made. Remigiusz Gałęcki from the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn writes that “basic food products, such as broccoli or canned tomatoes, contain insect residues.”

“A standard consumer eats about 100 grams of thrips per year (they belong to the subclass of winged insects). Insects can be found in frozen vegetables. Up to 50 aphids are allowed in 100 grams of frozen product. Fruit flies can be found in commonly available juices, especially in orange juice. 5 individuals per 226 g of juice” – the researcher mentions in his work. “If someone likes canned corn, they should take into account the possibility of eating corn borer larva or corn beetle. And mushrooms? This product, typical of Polish cuisine, can also be infested with insect larvae” – he writes.

It also confirms the claims about cochineal: “Even food additives such as cochineal (dye) are produced from cactus juniper (Dactylopius coccus).”

What is cochineal and where can it be found?

– Cochineal is a natural dye obtained from bugs living on cacti – explains Dr. Justyna Bylinowska. – It is generally not harmful to health, and it is a dye well tested by EFSA, an organization that cares about food safety. It determines, among other things, the permissible doses for both artificial and natural dyes – adds the nutritionist.

Cochineal is a dye obtained from bugs living on cacti, e.g. cactus bugsShutterstock

This safe daily dose of cochineal is 5 mg/kg of body weight. As Dr. Bylinowska explains, it is a red dye, so it can be found in products such as gummies (also vitamin ones for children), jellies, jellies, cookies and creams, ice cream, yoghurts, cold cuts, crab sticks, cheese casings and drinks. In the compositions given on the packaging, it also occurs under the names E120, carmine or carminic acid.

Robert Biedroń said that cochineal is added to cow’s milk and “dragees of a well-known brand”. We have not found information that this dye is added to milk (except for strawberry-flavored milk), but it can indeed be found in composition M&M’s Dragees.

It takes 150,000 to produce one kilogram of cochineal. dried and ground insects: cactus bugs. Some Internet users say that shellac (E904) is also made from junipers, which is added as a rinse aid to food products. Unlike cochineal, however, shellac is not produced from the insects themselves, but only from their secretions.

Doctor Justyna Bylinowska adds that consumers who are averse to insect-derived products or are looking for vegan products can choose an artificial substitute for cochineal: cochineal red (E124). – This dye is also safe, although it can cause allergic reactions a little more often. We can find it in hard candy, candies, ready-made soups or powdered cakes. However, scientists suspect that too frequent consumption of products with this artificial dye may negatively affect the concentration of attention in children, the nutritionist warns.

Main photo source: Shutterstock/Twitter

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