Last Friday, Polish conservative politicians opened a can of worms – about a can of worms. Insects as food is a controversial topic that has gained traction, mostly in the form of misinformation, in Poland and other EU countries.
Poles will hold a parliamentary election in autumn, largely seen as a fight between the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) and the opposition party Civic Platform (PO).
Even before the proper campaign began, lawmakers from PiS publicly complained that PO plans to limit the consumption of meat and replace it with insects, an accusation PO rejects.
Bartosz Kownacki, a PiS MP, was quoted as saying that PO politicians should write ‘Instead of chicken, eat a worm’ on each of their election posters, because, in his words, “this is their real election programme”.
State-run broadcaster TVP Info – regularly criticised by the opposition as a mouthpiece for government propaganda – accompanied Kownacki’s press conference with a news ticker reading “The opposition’s proposals for Poles: worms instead of meat”.
PiS further says that the C40 Cities initiative, a grouping of 40 mayors worldwide, of which Rafal Trzaskowski, Poland’s leading opposition and mayor of Warsaw, is a member, promotes eating insects to reduce the consumption of meat.
PO politicians and city hall officials had to go to great lengths to deny that plans to force people to lower meat consumption and eat worms are under consideration.
But Poland is not the only EU country where Eurosceptic politicians spread misinformation about an EU conspiracy to replace meat with insects and worms.
Recent EU approvals for food ingredients derived from house crickets and beetle larvae, which Brussels says are part of a push to find more sustainable nutrition sources, have stoked a surge in misleading claims on social media, also inspiring strong political messages.
In Bulgaria, where anti-EU rhetoric from some political parties is ramping up ahead of the 2 April snap elections, the move was presented as life-threatening.
The former interior minister and leader of the pro-Russian ABV party, Rumen Petkov, described the recent food approvals as a “crime against Europe” in an interview with pro-Kremlin media outlet Pogled.
He accused the European Commission of being “prepared to kill our European children”, who he suggested would unwittingly eat the insect products in their favourite snacks.
In Hungary, where tensions with Brussels have been high over frozen funds, Agriculture Minister Istvan Nagy warned that “traditional eating habits may be in danger” and promised the government would bring in new regulations to ensure what he said was ‘clear labelling’.
In Italy, many politicians from the Lega – Matteo Salvini’s nationalist eurosceptic right-wing party, which currently supports Giorgia Meloni’s government – announced recently that the EU intended to “impose” insect consumption on EU citizens.
Reports titled “The EU wants us to eat insects” appeared on Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset and the mainstream TV chain RAI.
French senator Laurent Duplomb of the conservative Les Républicains party told the Senate on 25 January that French people would “eat insects without their knowledge” and that the new ingredients would be included in food “without clearly informing consumers”.
In fact, the EU regulation says that the newly approved ingredients must be listed by both their scientific and everyday names.
According to the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), insects are “delicious treats for actors with interest in spreading disinformation against the EU”.
EDMO identified three fake narratives: “EU is forcing its citizens to eat insects, even if they don’t want to”, “insects are poisonous and not fit for human consumption”, and “EU is forced to resort to insects because of the dramatic consequences of the sanctions imposed to Russia over the war in Ukraine”.
Disinformation in the EU is more than often made in Russian troll factories, and the latter narrative appears just as a label of origin. It perfectly fits with the Russian narrative of a decadent West, which is reneging on its Christian roots, national or sexual identity, and now its eating habits.
The European Parliament must prepare to face all these aspects of disinformation in the run-up to the 2024 European elections. National elections held before them would certainly provide food for thought.
More importantly, the Commission should learn its lesson and start thinking about the political consequences of some of its initiatives before they get distorted and hijacked by the Eurosceptics and the Kremlin trolls.
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The European Commission is drafting a new target to have at least 40% of clean technologies manufactured in the EU by 2030 as part of a drive to meet climate goals and strengthen energy independence. Eligible technologies include renewables, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage, among others.
The Meta-owned messaging service WhatsApp agreed on Monday to a series of commitments to settle an EU consumer probe over how it pushes out updates to its terms of services.
In an interview with EURACTIV, the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit said member states should provide better recognition, pay and working conditions to make certain professions, such as care jobs, more attractive to Europeans.
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Look out for…
- Commission President Ursula von der Leyen begins visit to Canada, travels to Canadian Forces Base Kingston; meets with PM Justin Trudeau; addresses joint session of parliament; joint visit with Trudeau to a Canadian clean technology company.
- Commission Vice President Věra Jourová in New York: attends 67th session of Commission on Status of Women, and participates in event “A gender equal world with technologies, digitalisation and AI – what is our roadmap?”
- EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit attends trilogue on Decision on the European Year of Skills, at Council of the EU.
- Meeting of the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council.
- Informal meeting of defence ministers.
[Edited by Alice Taylor/Zoran Radosavljevic]