Edible insects unlikely to contribute to transmission of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Dicke, M.; Eilenberg, J.; Falcao Salles, J.; Jensen, A.B.; Lecocq, A.; Pijlman, G.P.; Loon, J.J.A. van; Oers, M.M. van


In the context of food safety, edible insects are evaluated for biological hazards such as microbial pathogens according to regulations currently in place. When the European Food Safety Authority evaluated the hazards of edible insects as a potential source of pathogenic viruses for humans and livestock, the novel zoonotic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 had not yet emerged but other pathogenic coronaviruses such as SARS (SARS-CoV) and MERS (MERS-CoV) were known. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, animal sources of protein for human consumption are being evaluated for the risks of being a transmission vector of coronaviruses, like SARS-CoV-2. Insects lack a receptor that can bind SARS-CoV-2, thus preventing the virus from replicating in insects, unlike some vertebrate livestock species and companion animals. Despite extensive monitoring, coronaviruses have never been recorded in insect microbiomes. Contamination of insects produced for food or feed may occur during the production process, resulting from rearing substrate or from insect farmers. However, the currently permitted rearing substrates do not include animal products and the farming process is highly automated, thus limiting interactions between farmers and insects. If contamination would still occur, the fact that the insects in production are not hosts to SARS-CoV-2 precludes virus replication and the further processing of the insects will destroy the contamination. We conclude that the hazard of edible insects being a transmission vector of SARS-CoV-2 is extremely low.