“Our chicken, pork and fish dishes are fed only the finest protein-rich maggots that have been reared on a diet of cow and pig excrement, washed down with a wee dram of whisky.”
For some, this kind of menu-boast would reflect the perfect scientific solution to the growing problems of rising waste and a soaring population, while for others, it’s just plain gross.
In an effort to satisfy the ever-expanding desire for meat, the EU is planning to rear flies on an industrial scale by feeding them on cow, pig and chicken excrement and using their protein-rich maggots for animal feed. As a result, a trial is under way to determine the feasibility of mass producing fly maggots, or larvae, that could take the place of widely demanded soya beans in high-protein feeds for pigs, chicken and fish.
The move will utilise the growing mountains of animal and vegetable waste produced by agricultural expansion, as well as the “substrate” left from making alcohol, especially whisky.
“They might be a nuisance in the house but the good thing about flies is that they will live on anything and grow very fast. Every student has had them growing in the trash can at some point,” said Georg Melzer, partner at Eutema Technology in Austria, who is involved in the project.
“What’s used will depend on what’s in the area. In Scotland, if there are 10 whisky distilleries near by it will use the grain fermented in the distillation process. In Spain it might be pulp from a tomato field, while in a lot of places it will be the mixture of droppings, straw and sawdust you get on chicken farms,” Mr Melzer added. The three-year project will be led by the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) and will use the maggots of the humble house fly – or Musca domestica.
The maggots are being produced at the Grant Bait fishing-bait farm in Roos, East Yorkshire, which is experimenting to find the best way to produce maggots on a huge scale using waste material. They are then shipped to Ghent, in Belgium, for the animal feed trials.
Elaine Fitches, who is co-ordinating the project at Fera, said: “With three billion extra mouths to feed by 2050, the need to improve the efficient use of land for protein production and the effective utilisation of waste materials has never been greater. Flies have the potential to become a cost-effective source of protein for animal feed.”
It is currently illegal to sell meat reared on animal feed containing maggots – although the practice is allowed if the produce is for personal use.
The authorities turn a blind eye to free-range chickens chomping on the odd maggot, but the larvae become a problem when mixed in with animal feed. As a result, advocates of maggot-based animal feeds are talking to the EU about changing the law as an early part of a lobbying campaign that will gather considerable momentum if the three-year project concludes that the practice is feasible on a wide scale.