The NovRBA Project focused on developing and testing a harmonized method based on Risk Benefit Assessment, with the aim of measuring the impact of replacing red meat with a specific one in adults novel food: the cricket Acheta domesticus.
The method was tested in 3 European countries, and the impact on consumers' health was positive, with a reduction in the days of life lost due to premature mortality and disability. A better communication strategy is deemed necessary to promote the consumption of these novel food and generate an improvement in the health of the general population. (1)
NovRBA and Risk-Benefit Assessment
The NovRBA project (Novel Foods as red meat replacers - an insight using Risk Benefit Assessment methods) was launched in March 2018, with the aim of assessing the overall health impact of replacing red meat with a novel food, through the use of Risk Benefit Assessment (RBA).
The RBA method allows you to take into account the benefits and risks of an activity, such as the consumption of a food. EFSA has promoted the use of the RBA on several occasions for a more truthful assessment of the health consequences of consuming certain foods. The main case studies taken into consideration were selenium, fish and milk. (2,3)
The project RiskBenefit4EU, which adopted the RBA method to assess the impact of cereal consumption on children's health with regard to contaminants (eg mycotoxins) and nutrients (eg sugars, fibers), served as the basis for NovRBA. Altogether, the work involves four step main which consist of: (4)
1 - Definition of the problem and identification of the scenario;
2 - Selection of health effects;
3 - Individual and population quantification of health risks and benefits;
4 - Comparison of scenarios, interpretation of results and communication.
The choice of insects was conducted on the basis of the guidelines e report published by the various Member States. The selection criteria were mainly two: 1) the market potential of novel food and 2) the availability of complete and reliable scientific publications on composition and production processes. The quarrel between the flour maggot Tenebrius molitor and the domestic cricket acheta domesticus saw the victory of the last insect, among 24 species of interest for the European market, such as already seen by the important number of authorizations granted and in progress.
They have been set two scenarios, such as already seen for algae that took into consideration a food of animal origin widely consumed in Europe (beef), and an insect preparation that was not distinguishable in the eyes of a consumer, and therefore more appreciable. Both foods were studied in the form of a citizen.
In particular the scenarios are:
Reference scenario: consumption of a citizen 100% beef (100 g of meat + 50 g of other ingredients);
Alternative scenario: consumption of a citizen of insect (35:65 ratio of water and dust) which replaced 100% the citizen beef.
The countries taken into consideration were Greece, France and Denmark, with focus for the adult population (> 18 years), due to the wider availability of data and reference literature.
On the base consumption of food and the concentration of nutrients, microorganisms and contaminants in the two scenarios, the values of Disability-adjusted life years (DALY) in the 3 countries considered. This unit of measurement indicates the loss of the equivalent of one year of life, in the case of 1 DALY, and combines the years of life lost due to premature mortality (YLL) and the years of life lost due to living in a state of disability (YLD).
La review guidelines and scientific literature led to the drafting of three lists: 1) long list, 2) short list and 3) final list of nutrients, microbiological and toxicological agents relevant to beef and acheta domesticus, relevant to the results of the RBA. From the final list it was possible to define the increases and reductions in the alternative scenario (cricket), in comparison with the reference scenario (beef):
Increases: calcium, fiber, magnesium, Omega-6 and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), with risks for Bacillus cereus e Clostridium perfrigens;
Reductions: iron, sodium, saturated fatty acids (SFA), vitamin B12 and zinc
Always on the base of the contents of the final list, the DALYs for the 3 reference countries, expressed in years, were calculated. Greece saw an average reduction of 8,753 DALYs, Denmark of 6,572 and France of 21,972. The differences are due to dietary styles and the difference in the size of populations.
The comunication for the promotion of the consumption of insects must be conducted carefully, so as to avoid feelings of disgust and associations with live animals (visually or in writing). To increase consensus, it is good to target the communication on processed products. The recommended strategy for promoting the benefits of substituting insects for meat are:
Provide understandable scientific evidence on the consumption of insects ai policy makers;
- Create opportunities for consumers to learn more about insect consumption;
- Use charismatic and trusted multipliers;
- Establish exchanges of information from reliable sources;
- Inform the industry ofanimal-reminder disgust.
The RBA study found difficulties due to the incomplete availability of data on the nutritional and toxicological aspects of the domestic cricket and the effects of its consumption on the health of consumers. Different nutrients (eg copper, phosphorus), microorganisms (eg. Clostridium botulinum) and health impacts were not considered, due to lack of data on a dose-response effect, to be combined with beef.
Another aspect relevant, and currently lacking, is the actual consumption of acheta domesticus in the populations considered (and in the EU in general). In addition, the constructed scenario is based on a diet that is not subject to any kind of change, a condition that is difficult to fulfill in reality. The change in quality was considered in the study, but one aspect that was missing is the assessment of the change in quantity, which would fill this gap.
The NovRBA project has effectively used the RBA method, to identify a potential improvement in the health status of the EU population, through a “simple” change in eating habits. However, at the moment, the data must be considered carefully, given the limitations that still exist.
The RBA method however, it is a potentially valid tool to help relevant figures such as risk assessors and managers, together with policy makers, to provide food advice to the population, such as we have seen for the Nutri-Score despite strong opposition of interest.
Based on recommendations provided by the results of the RBA, several interventions are required to increase the effectiveness of the method, with reference to all novel foods, Of which (yes, you can learn it) a standardization of data relating to their composition and standard foods, so as to facilitate the determination of the effects of substitution in alternative scenarios.
Andrea Adelmo Della Penna
(1) Naska et al. (2022). Novel foods as red meat replacers - an insight using Risk Benefit Assessment methods (the NovRBA project). EFSA Supporting Publication EN-7316, https://doi.org/10.2903/sp.efsa.2022.EN-7316
(2) EFSA (2010). Guidance on human health risk-benefit assessment of foods. EFSA Journal 8 (7): 1673, https://doi.org/10.2093/j.efsa.2010.1673
(3) DTU Food et al. (2019). Risk-Benefit Assessment of Foods. EFSA Journal 17 (S2): 170917, https://doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2019.e170917
(4) Alvito et al. (2019). RiskBenefit4EU - Partnering to strengthen Risk-Benefit Assessment within the EU using a holistic approach. EFSA Supporting Publication EN-1768, https://doi.org/10.2903/sp.efsa.2019.EN-1768
Graduated in Food Technologies and Biotechnologies, qualified food technologist, he follows the research and development area. With particular regard to European research projects (in Horizon 2020, PRIMA) where the FARE division of WIISE Srl, a benefit company, participates.