There is a lack of research on the emerging risks for animal, human and plant health when following a circular economy approach, according to an analysis.

An external scientific report, published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), found evidence gaps exist in relation to the risks to plant, human and animal health and the environment from novel food and feeds within the circular economy model.

A circular economy aims to maintain the value of products, materials and resources for as long as possible. However, there is a need to identify potential emerging issues for the environment and food and feed safety to balance opportunities, benefits and risks. The European Commission adopted a circular economy action plan in March 2020.

A literature review categorized practices at all stages of the food and feed production chain in Europe to give an overview of current and envisaged practices.

Four areas were identified: primary production of food and feed; reducing industrial, manufacturing and processing waste; reducing food and feed waste in wholesale, food retail, catering and households; and reducing food and feed packaging waste.

Associated risks include bacterial and viral contamination of food crops from using wastewater for irrigation, heavy metals and mycotoxins in insects and the allergenic potential of chitosan in bio-based food contact materials.

Insect focus
Another literature search was done to identify emerging risks to plant, animal, human health and the environment from novel foods and feeds in relation to the circular economy. Twenty-six relevant studies investigating such risks were found.

The work was part of an EFSA two year project on food and feed safety vulnerabilities in this area.

Studies covering risk were almost entirely focused on the biological and chemical hazards, risks to health, and environmental impacts of insects as food or feed and what they are reared on. One investigated allergens and possible physical hazards were only discussed in reviews.

Seven articles reported the presence of potential chemical hazards in food or feed. Hazards included heavy metals, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), mineral oil hydrocarbons, veterinary medicines and pesticides.

Post-harvest thermal or freeze-drying treatments may reduce or eliminate some microbiological hazards but authors indicated that not all of them are effective for total inactivation of microorganisms and their toxins.

Novel sources of food and feed, food contact materials (FCM) to extend shelf life and recycling of plastics and paper/card packaging had risks thought to be more difficult to overcome based on a consultation.

Experts recommended that future research in novel food and feed in the circular economy focuses on areas outside insect farming, and that there are investigations into the potential risks associated with EU import of livestock and goods that may be subject to different restrictions or legislation.

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