Food producers in Finland are moving ahead with plans for production and harvesting of insects, after the Food Safety Authority Evira approved a change in the way existing legislation is interpreted, to allow certain insects to enter the human food chain.
Finland will be only the fifth EU country – after the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark – to allow insects to be used in whole, or ground into powder and added to foods.
“Insects commonly farmed in Finland are mainly crickets, because they are easy to farm efficiently all year round” says Topi Kairenius, who has been working with Evira and food companies, and who is a keen proponent of humans eating insects.
“Crickets are globally spread, they’re also in the wild of nature. It has quite a short life span and it is possible to farm them all year round” he says.
While Finnish cultivators have focused on crickets, meal worms – a type of beetle larvae – and ants are also likely to be on the approved list of insects that can be used in Finland. In other countries, like the Netherlands, they’re also farming locusts.
“Evira has been very cooperative since the beginning when they learned of the potential and good sides of the insect economy, and they know that it’s legal in other EU countries” says Kairenius, who explains that just like other farm animals, there will be certain standards of welfare, production cleanliness and supply chain integrity codified when insects are grown and harvested.
Finnish companies have already been anticipating this rule change. The country’s first cricket farm was established in 2014 by Otaniemi-based Entocube. They’re producing commercial products like cricket chili peanuts and oven roasted crickets.
Big name companies like Fazer and KotiPizza have also been interested in the potential of insects as part of their food production: for example, cricket powder can be added to flour to give it a protein boost, or whole cooked crickets could be sprinkled on top of products.
Health food chain Ruohonjuuri are already selling cricket granola, but marketed as a ‘kitchen decoration’ to skirt around the current legislation.
Traditional Farming Changes
Finnish farmers are also exploring the commercial opportunities of entomophagy – the human use of insects as food.
There are already six insect farms across the county, three of them in Kurikka alone, as part of a pilot project where pig farmers are looking at the possibilities of switching their production from meat to insects.
Globally, and also in Finland, there is a need for sustainable farming methods as the planet’s population increases.
Insects could fit the bill. They’re fast growing, require very little water or expert equipment, and an insect farm takes up a small physical footprint. Crickets are high in protein and other nutrients like calcium, iron and zinc. They also have B12 vitamins, which are not found in a plant-based diet.
It’s not just farmers and food companies that are interested to understand more about the insect economy, and how they can be incorporated into the food chain.
Espoo has launched a pilot project with South Tapiola High School ‘Etis’ to study the future of food trends, the economy and ecological impacts of cultivation.
A small white shipping container from Entocube – one of the company’s founders is a former Etis student – sits in the school grounds. Inside, 120,000 little crickets.
The crickets take approximately six weeks from hatching to harvesting, and grow quickly on a diet of chicken feed.
“A couple of weeks ago the legislation went through that we can sell insects as food […] and I’m pretty sure that we are getting more interested but also that we have to be, because red meat is just not enough for us for the future” says Aaron Uussaari, one of the students involved in the study.
“We need other sources of protein and one of the best sources is crickets and other insects” he says.
The shipping container has shelves of plastic boxes, filled with egg cartons where the crickets live. Wire mesh on top of the boxes stops crickets from jumping out, although at only one month old they’re too small to make an escape attempt. They’re also too young to make the chirruping noise usually associated with adult crickets.
“Obviously we learned a lot of small details about how to keep crickets alive for a start. But the real thing is we learned how to make food, about the regulations” says Uussaari.
Education & Economy
The students sell the crickets back to Entocube at €20 per kilo. In one harvest they might expect to get as much as 30kg from their boxes of crickets. They’re also making granola bars to sell to other students, which they hope to be able to market to Finnish supermarkets in the near future.
The money raised from the project goes to help fund a school for low-caste dalit children in Nepal, part of the ‘circular education’ the school tries to promote says Rector Harri Rinta-aho: the students learn about raising crickets and animal welfare; running a business; marketing their products; and helping children in other parts of the world to improve their education possibilities.
The school’s granola bars have been a success so far.
“So the granola bars use a lot of honey, a lot of peanuts and then we use whole size crickets, we don’t chop them up” says Etis student Peter Pekkinen.
“We want people to see the crickets, we don’t want to hide them. We just do a basic granola bar and then we put the crickets in” he says.
“It’s quite hard to get people to taste them because usually they are quite afraid. But when we finally get them to taste it, it’s completely fine. The texture might be a big weird sometimes, but they usually just say it’s good” adds Pekkinen.
One important lesson the students at Etis have learned, is that while insects might be a strange food item in many western cultures, in many other parts of the world they’re already included in peoples diet.
A change in attitude and perception will have to take place in Finland to make insects a normal part of the food chain.
“The coolest part is there’s nothing bad about it. For two thirds of the world, it’s nothing new to eat insects” says 17-year-old Aaron Uussaari.
“We are trying to make in our school, eating crickets is a positive thing. It’s so good. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s ecologically good. It tastes good. And it’s really healthy”.