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Assessment of Earthworm ( Lumbricidae ) Species Suitability for Processing into Powder

  • Latvia University of Life Sciencies and Technologies


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American Journal of Entomology
2020; 4(3): 45-50
doi: 10.11648/j.aje.20200403.11
ISSN: 2640-0529 (Print); ISSN: 2640-0537 (Online)
Assessment of Earthworm (Lumbricidae) Species
Suitability for Processing into Powder
Ilga Gedrovica
Department of Food Technology, Faculty of Food Technology, Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies, Jelgava, Latvia
Email address:
To cite this article:
Ilga Gedrovica. Assessment of Earthworm (Lumbricidae) Species Suitability for Processing into Powder. American Journal of Entomology.
Vol. 4, No. 3, 2020, pp. 45-50. doi: 10.11648/j.aje.20200403.11
Received: October 16, 2020; Accepted: October 26, 2020; Published: November 4, 2020
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk of the need to reduce the use of traditional sources of protein (from
ruminants, pigs, chickens) due to adverse effects on the environment. Alternative sources of protein are encouraged, for example,
people should consume different insects and larvae. Crickets, grasshoppers, locusts and mealworms have attracted attention
among the many species of edible insects, that's why they are likely to be the first to be legal in Europe. In Latvia, earthworms are
common in nature and are grown on farms. They could be a potentially edible. However, they have not been adequately studied
for human consumption. It is necessary to evaluate the safety aspects during the processing of earthworms. The studied
earthworm species Eisenia fetida and Eisenia veneta react differently during the pre-processing stage, and the quality of the
obtained product differs significantly in several aspects. The evaluation of the quality of earthworm powder obtained from
earthworms shows their high nutritional value, as well as the significant effect of the drying method on the physical and sensory
properties of the product, as well as microbiological parameters. In general, sublimated earthworm powder has a wider range of
applications in new products; however, it is important to remember that additional heat treatment is provided to ensure safety.
Earthworms, Entomophagy, Processing Technologies, Food Safety
1. Introduction
In Europe, as well as in Latvia people use animal products
as protein sources. The production and increasing demand for
meat and its products has a harmful impact on the environment.
This is the reason why dietary changes are required.
Insect-based meat substitutes are potentially more sustainable
[1]. Research indicates that they are generally higher in
protein content than other traditional sources of protein, such
as meat, dairy products, some seeds and soybeans;
furthermore, the protein is of higher quality [2-3]. Insects are
promising, healthy and sustainable source of high-quality
proteins [4-5] and may be included in the common diet in EU
countries in the near future [6-7].
According to Jongema more than 2000 different insect
species are being consumed [8]; however, the list of
application submitted to the European Commission of Food,
Farming and Fisheries (by autumn 2020) includes the
following species: lesser mealworms Alphitobius disaperinus,
house cricket Acheta domesticus, banded crickets Gryllodes
sigillatus, migratory locust Locusta migratoria, mealworms
Tenebrio molitor, black cricket Acheta assimilis, desert locust
Schistocerca gregaria [9]. Globally, beetles (31%),
caterpillars (17%), wasps, bees and ants (15%), crickets,
grasshoppers and locusts (14%), and true bugs (11%) are the
most common in diets [1], but the choice is usually
determined by the availability in a particular region. In Latvia,
edible insects are not available in sufficient quantities or are
used for other purposes (for example, bees for honey
collection), but earthworms can be widely found in Latvia.
There are more than 300 species of earthworms as
belonging to the family Lumbricidae and 14 species of them
are found in Latvia. Earthworms play a major role in the
agricultural environment because they are involved in many
soil processes such as soil turnover, aeration and drainage,
and the breakdown and incorporation of organic matter.
Earthworms serve as an important link in the food chain for
fish, birds, and other animals. [10] The most well-known
species in Latvia are Eisenia fetida and Eisenia veneta, which
are known to be grown on farms to obtain vermicomposting.
However, there is an alternative for the usage of earthworms
– as a protein source in human food production. Including
46 Ilga Gedrovica: Assessment of Earthworm (Lumbricidae) Species Suitability for Processing into Powder
something so unusual (currently) to the consumer's menu
requires the assessment of all the safety aspects, to make sure
that the processing is safe at all the stages.
The general objective of the study was to assess the
suitability of two earthworm (Lumbricidae) species for
powder processing.
The specific objectives were: (a) determine the time period
necessary for cleaning earthworms (externally and internally);
(b) evaluate the safety aspects related to microbiology and
parasitology in earthworms; (c) analyse earthworm powder
depending on the drying method, evaluate the relationship
between quality and different types of packaging.
2. Methodology
2.1. Samples of Earthworms
Earthworms from the species of Eisenia fetida and Eisenia
veneta (Dendrobena) were tested in this study. Earthworms
were reared in an earthworm farm located in Latvia. Growth
substrate is made of deep peat. Earthworms were fed with
plant-based feed (fibres, cereal flour, vegetables). In order to
guarantee comparable results, growth conditions, such as the
moisture, temperature and pH were kept under control.
2.2. Earthworm Cleaning Experiment
The first cleaning procedure consisted of a mechanical
separation of the earthworms from the growth substrate with
the use of sieves.
Earthworms that are typical to their species (Eisenia fetida
- 5-7 cm in length, weight 0.4-0.7 g and Eisenia veneta
(Dendrobena) - 9-15 cm in length, weight 1.2-2.3 g), were
selected for the experiment.
Earthworms were separated from the substrate and divided
into groups of 50, their weight measurement was performed.
Earthworms were placed in plastic boxes (black colour, 32
l) which were placed in a warm (21±2 degrees Celsius) room
to clean the gut from the substrate for 24 hours. During this
time, earthworms were observed - their activity was
evaluated (mobility; movement around the box); and reaction
to light (signs of a reaction; reaction speed). After 24 hours
the earthworms’ mass was measured, and they were placed in
a clean box and left to continue cleaning the gut. This
scenario was repeated.
Experiment was carried out 3 times and lasted for seven
days which was then repeated 2 times.
2.3. Technological Transformation Processes
After first cleaning procedure earthworms were thoroughly
washed with running tap water in order to remove the
residual particles of substrate and the excrement. Then
earthworms were blanched several times and cooled to room
temperature. Two drying methods were chosen - convection
drying (85±1°C) and freeze-drying (lyophilization). The
dried earthworms were ground with a mechanical crusher and
it resulted in earthworm powder.
2.4. Microbiological and Parasitology Analysis
Live earthworms Eisenia fetida and Eisenia veneta
(Dendrobena) were collected after separation from the
growth substrate for microbiological and parasitology
Microbiological and parasitological analyses were done to
the freshly prepared earthworm powder. Standard methods
were used for microbiological and parasitological analyses.
Results were determined for all samples in triplicate.
2.5. Earthworm Powder Quality
The main nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate) were
determined for samples of both earthworm species using
standard methods.
The main quality parameters, such as moisture, pH, water
activity and colour were determined for the freshly prepared
powder using standard methods.
Qualitative assessment was used for the determination of
sensory indicators (ISO 4121:2003).
Sensory properties (aroma, appearance, taste, and
aftertaste) were evaluated on freshly prepared earthworm
powder samples. Experts from Latvia University of Life
Sciences and Technologies of Faculty of Food Technology
participated in the sensory evaluation.
2.6. Digital Microscope Photography
High quality imaging and measurement digital 3D
microscope "Hirox RX-2000 3D" with a magnification of up
to 5,000 times was used to study the earthworms.
2.7. Data Analysis
All data was collected and analysed via combination of
descriptive techniques (means, frequencies, percentages).
Statistical analysis was performed using analysis of variance
(ANOVA) and Tukey test at significance level P<0.05.
3. Results and Discussion
3.1. Time Period Needed for the Earthworms to Get Clean
One of the most important obstacles in obtaining earthworm
mass without substrate is the cleaning. Both species of
earthworms were observed to see how long it takes them to
clean the gut and how much weight have the earthworms lost.
The summarized results (Figure 1) show that the fastest
weight loss occurs on the first and second day. The weight of
earthworms Eisenia fetida was reduced by 10-33% of the
initial weight, while for other samples Eisenia veneta reduced
by 8.6-14% compared to the initial weight.
On average, two days is the time required to clean the guts
of earthworms, because the rest of the time the mass does not
change significantly. After observing the earthworms'
well-being during fasting and purification it is evident that
Eisenia fetida were more active, especially on the first days of
the study, while Dendrobena were more sensitive to changing
conditions and reduced their activity, especially in the last
American Journal of Entomology 2020; 4(3): 45-50 47
days of the experiment, when Dendrobena stopped moving
and reacted weakly to the light.
Figure 1. Changes in earthworms weight during the cleaning of gut.
At the bottom and sides of each segment of the
earthworm’s body there are 4 pairs of microscopic bristles
(Figure 2) that hold the substrates. When the earthworms are
taken out of it, they cannot be thoroughly and completely
clean from the substrates. Eisenia fetida tend to retain more
substrate in their bristles than Dendrobena, so the study
showed a greater range of weight difference before and after
getting clean gut.
Figure 2. Earthworm and its bristles in enlargement 2000 micrometres.
3.2. Microbiological and Parasitology Results
Earthworm bacteriology and parasitology were studied to
identify potential health risks. Microbiological content of live
earthworms revealed no sign of Salmonella spp., Listeria
monocytogenes, E. coli, Yersinia spp., Campylobacter spp.,
Staphylococcus aureus, in all experiment samples and this is
important for product safety. The other microbiological
parameters according to Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 [11]
were assessed for earthworms and are shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Microbiological and parasitology results of live earthworms.
Bacteriological parameters Eisenia fetida Eisenia veneta (Dendrobena)
Enterobacteriaceae Not detected Not detected
E.coli Not detected Not detected
Bacillus cereus presence Detected Bacillus cereus and Bacillus mycoides Detected Bacillus cereus and Bacillus subtilis
Staphyloccus aureus Not detected Not detected
Campylobacter spp. Not detected Not detected
Yersinia spp. Not detected Not detected
Pathogenic microflora
Detected conditionally pathogenic microflora: Citrobacer freunii,
Citobacter braakii, Pseudomonas spp., Escherichia coli,
Enterococcus durans, Stafylococuus sciuri, Klebsiella variicola
Detected conditionally pathogenic microflora:
Citrobacer freunii, Enterobacter spp.,
Kluyvera spp., Pseudomonas spp.,
Enterococcus spp., Achromobacter spp.,
Buttiauxella spp.
Anaerobic microflora Detected Clostridium butyricum and Clostridium sporogenes Detected Clostridium subterminale
Identification of microscopic fungi
Detected Penicillium spp., Mucor circinelloides, Fusarium solani Detected Penicillium spp., Trichoderma spp.
The microbiological contamination in the earthworms was
reduced by the use of the two different drying methods for
obtaining the earthworm powder.
The earthworm powders’ microbiological parameters
according to Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 [11] were
evaluated, and are shown in Table 2. Bacteriological
parameters were strongly influenced by the species and
drying method selected. From the results it can be concluded
that an important aspect of the safety of earthworm powder is
the protection against access to moisture during storage;
however, in the preparation of the food products additional
heat treatment must be desirable to avoid the development of
microorganisms. From the point of safety Eisenia veneta
(Dendrobena) has shown more positive aspects overall.
Table 2. Microbiological and parasitology results of earthworm powder.
Bacteriological parameters Eisenia fetida Eisenia veneta (Dendrobena)
Convection drying Freeze-drying Convection drying Freeze-drying
Enterobacteriaceae <10 CFU 1g
(37°C) 2.3x10
(37°C) <10 CFU 1g
(37°C) 1.3x10
CFU 1g
Bacillus cereus presence Not detected Detected on 1 g (30°C) Not detected Detected on 1 g (30°C)
Presence of coliforms Detected on 0.1 g; Not
detected on 0.01 g (37°C)
Detected on 0.01 g (37°C)
Detected on 0.1 g; Not
detected on 0.01 g (37°C)
Detected on 0.01 g
Total plate count (MAFAm) 9.6 x 10
CFU 1g
7.2 x 10
CFU 1g
4.8 x 10
CFU 1g
3.1 x 10
CFU 1g
Mould <10 CFU 1g
<10 CFU 1g
<10 CFU 1g
<10 CFU 1g
Yeasts <10 CFU 1g
6.0 x 10 CFU 1g
<10 CFU 1g
<10 CFU 1g
Presence of sulphite-reducing clostridia Detected on 1 g Detected on 1 g Detected on 1 g Detected on 1 g
48 Ilga Gedrovica: Assessment of Earthworm (Lumbricidae) Species Suitability for Processing into Powder
Figure 3. Earthworm powder colour after different drying methods.
3.3. Earthworm Powder Quality
Earthworms can be dried to obtain earthworm powder
which contains a large amount of protein; protein content
varies depending on the species: powder of Eisenia fetida
contains 74.1 g per 100 g, but powder of Eisenia veneta
(Dendrobena) contains 60.1 g 100g
The fat content of both powders was as follows: Eisenia
fetida - 9.1 g 100g
, but Eisenia veneta (Dendrobena) - 8.6 g
; the carbohydrates in this powder were in negligible
amounts (Eisenia fetida - <0.2 g 100g
, but Eisenia veneta
(Dendrobena) – 0.4 g 100g
If we evaluate different drying methods of earthworms,
there are more advantages to freeze-drying because it is
possible to get earthworm powder in lighter colour (Figure 3),
because the hot air in convention dryer accelerate the
oxidative process and influence the colour [12].
The powder has low water activity and moisture content is
only 3-5%; however, it should be noted that it is very hygroscopic
(Table 3). This powder is easier to integrate into wide range of
food products. Thanks to the freeze-drying method, it is possible
to conserve not only colour and nutrients, but also the shape of
the product. Figure 3 shows earthworms, whose body shape
with all bristles is perfectly preserved after freeze-drying.
Table 3. Quality parameters of earthworm powder.
Bacteriological parameters Eisenia fetida Eisenia veneta (Dendrobena)
Convection drying Freeze-drying Convection drying Freeze-drying
Moisture, % 8.0±0.16 3.1±0.08 7.6±0.25 5.4±0.02
Water activity, a
0.409±0.026 0.086±0.001 0.377±0.001 0.514±0.001
pH 7.2±0.01 6.8±0.01 7.2±0.01 6.9±0.01
Water solubility, % 3.6±0.11 5.7±0.17 4.3±0.12 6.2±0.18
Water absorption, % 24.4±0.73 30.6±0.91 32.8±0.94 38.8±1.16
If earthworm powder is used in the preparation of food
products, the colour of which is not so significant, then it is
also possible to use convection drying to produce earthworm
powder. It is also a cheaper way of drying, it consumes less
time, and high temperature of dryer gives extra safety to
earthworm powder. The difference between freeze-dried
earthworm powder and convection-dried earthworm powder
can accessed 10-21% (Figure 4). There is a higher contrast
between Eisenia fetida earthworm powder samples, which is
due to their higher iron content [12]
Figure 4. Dried earthworm in freeze-dryer in enlargement 2000
In general, as all the earthworm powders studied have low
water activity, they are expected to have a long shelf life
(Table 3). The water activity measurement provides important
information about the quality of a product, because it provides
information regarding the possibility of microbiological
growth in product [13].
The moisture content between samples is significantly
affected by the chosen drying method; convection-dried
samples contain 1.4-2.5 times more moisture than freeze-dried
(Table 3), but in general it is not high, which is good to prevent
the development of microorganisms.
The pH of earthworm powder should be evaluated through
a comparison to meat products, as it is neutral or slightly
alkaline (Table 3) similar to eggs or soy milk [14, 15].
The drying method has a significant influence on the
sensory evaluation of earthworm powder (Figure 5). The
aroma of earthworm powder is similar to soil and dried fish
products. However, freeze-dried earthworm powder has a
higher rating because its aroma is less distinctive, it is mild;
however, convection-dried earthworms have a sharp aroma.
All earthworm powders are quite similar in appearance. The
biggest difference is in the colour, which varies from light
grey (freeze-dried samples) to dark grey (convection-dried
samples). In terms of product taste, earthworm powders do not
taste good. Rather they can be assessed as inexpressive or
neutral (depending on the type of sample), but in the aftertaste
you can still feel the taste, which is in line with the aroma - the
taste of soil, ash, dried fish. In general, earthworm powders
obtained by freeze-dried are valued more highly.
There are significant differences between earthworm
species when evaluating the production of earthworm powder.
According to the results of the experiment, earthworms lose
American Journal of Entomology 2020; 4(3): 45-50 49
one third of their initial mass during fasting, but the difference
between the mass of live earthworms and the resulting
earthworm powder is for Eisenia fetida 6-8 times, but for
Eisenia veneta (Dendrobena) 8-9.5 times lower.
Figure 5. Sensory evaluation of earthworm powder.
4. Conclusions
This study showed that the impact of physical properties
(sensitivity, activity etc.) and living conditions (temperature,
lack of feed, etc.) of earthworms vary significantly among
different species. Knowing the nature of earthworms, could
help avoiding and preventing difficulties during the
processing and production. Earthworms, species Eisenia
veneta (Dendrobena), are more sensitive to fasting, then their
activity and reaction to light are reduced significantly when
compared to Eisenia fetida. Significant gut cleansing of
earthworms occurs in the first 48 hours, but in the following
days weight loss is negligible.
Depending on the type of product planned to be produced,
the drying method can be chosen to obtain earthworm
powder. Freeze-dried method will help to obtain a product
with a light colour, neutral aroma and taste, low moisture
content and water activity, but high hygroscopicity.
The microbiological characteristics of the powder are
significantly influenced by the drying method. It should be
noted that the convection drying forms a safer product,
however, its physical and sensory parameters will limit its
In order to obtain the safest possible earthworm powder and
due to the potential hazards, it is recommended to perform
some thermal treatment before using the earthworm powder as
Further studies are necessary to evaluate different
earthworm species and based on the results should be the
establishment of specific guidelines for the production and
commercialization of earthworms if they will be reared for
human consumption.
Current research has been supported by the European
Regional Development Fund under the activity “Post-doctoral
Research Aid”, project No “New
sources of protein for food in Latvia”.
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Insects are for many nations and ethnic groups an indispensable part of the diet. From a nutritional point of view, insects have significant protein content. It varies from 20 to 76% of dry matter depending on the type and development stage of the insect. Fat content variability is large (2–50% of dry matter) and depends on many factors. Total polyunsaturated fatty acids content may be up to 70% of total fatty acids. Carbohydrates are represented mainly by chitin, whose content ranges between 2.7mg to 49.8mg per kg of fresh matter. Some species of edible insects contain a reasonable amount of minerals (K, Na, Ca, Cu, Fe, Zn, Mn and P) as well as vitamins such as B group vitamins, vitamins A D, E, K, and C. However their content is seasonal and dependent on the feed. From the hygienic point of view it should be pointed out that some insects may produce or contain toxic bioactive compounds. They may also contain residues of pesticides and heavy metals from the ecosystem. Adverse human allergic reactions to edible insects could be also a possible hazard.
Full-text available
The objective of this study was to determine the effect of breed line and age on pH in broiler chicken breast muscles. pH values of m. pectoralis major muscle were compared within 6 groups - each line (Cobb, Ross, Hubbard) was divided into two groups aged 42 and 50 days. pH values were recorded 15minutes, 24 and 48hours after slaughtering. Older broilers showed significantly lower pH than younger ones. Interactions between breed line and age were found, except for pH after 24hours. Meat quality of broilers can be estimated quickly by determining the pH-value of breast meat.
Full-text available
Open available: Purpose Food production is among the highest human environmental impacting activities. Agriculture itself accounts for 70–85 % of the water footprint and 30 % of world greenhouse gas emissions (2.5 times more than global transport). Food production’s projected increase in 70 % by 2050 highlights the importance of environmental impacts connected with meat production. The production of various meat substitutes (plant-based, mycoprotein-based, dairy-based, and animal-based substitutes) aims to reduce the environmental impact caused by livestock. This article outlined the comparative analysis of meat substitutes’ environmental performance in order to estimate the most promising options. Methods The study considered “cradle-to-plate” meal life cycle with the application of ReCiPe and IMPACT 2002+ methods. Inventory was based on literature and field data. Functional unit (FU) was 1 kg of a ready-to-eat meal at a consumer. The study evaluated alternative FU (the equivalent of 3.75 MJ energy content of fried chicken lean meat and 0.3 kg of digested dry matter protein content) as a part of sensitivity analysis. Results and discussion Results showed the highest impacts for lab-grown meat and mycoprotein-based analogues (high demand for energy for medium cultivation), medium impacts for chicken (local feed), and dairy-based and gluten-based meat substitutes, and the lowest impact for insect-based and soy meal-based substitutes (by-products allocated). Alternative FU confirmed the worst performance of lab-grown and mycoprotein-based analogues. The best performing products were insect-based and soy meal-based substitutes and chicken. The other substitutes had medium level impacts. The results were very sensitive to the changes of FU. Midpoint impact category results were the same order of magnitude as a previously published work, although wide ranges of possible results and system boundaries made the comparison with literature data not reliable. Conclusions and recommendations The results of the comparison were highly dependable on selected FU. Therefore, the proposed comparison with different integrative FU indicated the lowest impact of soy meal-based and insect-based substitutes (with given technology level development). Insect-based meat substitute has a potential to be more sustainable with the use of more advanced cultivation and processing techniques. The same is applicable to lab-grown meat and in a minor degree to gluten, dairy, and mycoprotein-based substitutes.
As the land currently available for livestock is not enough to satisfy the growing demand for meat, insects are proposed as an alternative protein source. Examples of insect consumption are given from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Nigeria. It is argued that edible insects may qualify as a product with both an ecolabel and an animal welfare label. Concerning their nutritional value, it is difficult to generalize with the more than 2000 insect species eaten, but proteins, fatty acids, and micronutrients are discussed. The main food safety risk of edible insects relates to contamination, in particular when insects are reared on organic side streams. The best strategies to promote insect consumption are: to give people a tasting experience and to incorporate the insects unrecognizably into familiar products. Considering the recent interest worldwide by the academic world and private enterprise in insects as food and feed, it has the potential to become an important sector in the food and agriculture industry.
This paper discusses the current state and priorities of Europe-based research on insects as food and feed, based on presentations at a workshop held in December 2015, and discussions that followed. We divide research into studies that focus on farming, health and nutrition, and those that prioritise psychological, social and political concerns. Edible insects are not necessarily universally beneficial. However, certain food insects can convert organic waste material, and provide nutrient-rich protein for humans and animals. Recent research is not concordant when trying to identify social and psychological barriers to insects as food in Europe, indicating the complexity of the issue of consumer acceptance. Innovative means of marketing insects as food include 3D printing, scientific comics, and the promotion of rural food culture in an urban setting. Edible insects are intimately connected to strong cultural and regional values, and their increasing commercialisation may empower and/or disenfranchise those who hold such values. We conclude with a discussion about the future priorities of edible insect research in Europe. We acknowledge the political nature of the ‘entomophagy’ movement. With legislative change, the insect food industry potential presents an opportunity to challenge the dynamics of current food systems. We identify the following priorities for future research: the need to better understand environmental impacts of insect procurement on both a regional and global scale, to investigate factors affecting the safety and quality of insect foods, to acknowledge the complexity of consumer acceptance, and to monitor the social and economic impacts of this growing industry.
Insects, a traditional food in many parts of the world, are highly nutritious and especially rich in proteins and thus represent a potential food and protein source. A compilation of 236 nutrient compositions in addition to amino acid spectra and fatty acid compositions as well as mineral and vitamin contents of various edible insects as derived from literature is given and the risks and benefits of entomophagy are discussed. Although the data were subject to a large variation, it could be concluded that many edible insects provide satisfactorily with energy and protein, meet amino acid requirements for humans, are high in MUFA and/or PUFA, and rich in several micronutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, and zinc as well as riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin, and in some cases folic acid. Liabilities of entomophagy include the possible content of allergenic and toxic substances as well as antinutrients and the presence of pathogens. More data are required for a thorough assessment of the nutritional potential of edible insects and proper processing and decontamination methods have to be developed to ensure food safety.
What if insects were on the menu in Europe?At a glance
  • N Kuljanic
Kuljanic N. (2020) What if insects were on the menu in Europe?At a glance, Scientific Foresight: What if? Aviable at: 641551/EPRS_ATA(2020)641551_EN.pdf.