LONDON — A haul of dried caterpillars has been seized by customs officers at Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom.
The tens of thousands of insects, shrink-wrapped in plastic and stuffed into four hessian bags, were found in the luggage of a 22-year-old man who had travelled from Burkina Faso, in West Africa.
The man claimed the 94kg of caterpillars (amacimbi) were for “personal consumption”.
But the insects breached controls on the importation of “products of animal origin” and were destroyed.
Experts said the insects were likely to be caterpillars which are commonly eaten throughout Africa.
“These kind of dried caterpillars of the moth Gonimbrasia belina are already sold through outlets in the UK, so I can’t see that there is a tangible threat to our food chain,” Stuart Hine, an entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London told The Independent.
“That said, once this kind of insect foodstuff becomes more common in the UK, either imported or otherwise, it will eventually be subject to UK food standards. At the moment, its sale and use is deemed somewhat as a novelty and food standards are not necessarily invoked.”
Ingrid Smith, at the UK Border Agency, said: “This was an unusual seizure, but the vigilance of our officers has stopped these dried insects from entering the UK and possible posing a risk to our food chain.”
Import restrictions apply to products made from meat, dairy, fish, eggs and honey as well as some fruit, vegetables and plants. The man responsible for the caterpillars was given a warning.
The online retailer Firebox offers 40g bags of amacimbi for £16,99, saying that they have three times the protein of beef.
At the a price, the haul would have been worth £40 000.