Mick Grant is a farmer in Roos, U.K., a burly fellow with strong hands and a quick smile. His great-grandfather started out with a shop and two cows. Out of that grew Elm Farm, a 450-hectare estate on which Grant is raising pigs and growing wheat, peas, and oil seed rape. Recently, Grant has added a new species of livestock: housefly larvae, also known as maggots.

In two blue shipping containers a short drive from the farmhouse, Grant is raising them by the tens of thousands. They grow on manure from a nearby chicken farm—the fresher the better, Grant says: “As it gets older it crusts and gets fungus in it.” Maggots from old manure, he says, “are not as good a maggot as they are at the beginning.”

Grant has produced hundreds of kilos of dried maggots in the last few months as part of an E.U.-funded research project called PROteINSECT. They are now being fed to fish, pigs, and chickens in large trials designed to answer an increasingly urgent question: Are insects the animal feed of the future?

Some scientists are convinced the answer is yes. The world’s appetite for meat is growing, and the production of animal feed is an increasing strain on land and water. Insects could provide much of the protein animals need at a much lower environmental cost; many insect species can feed on manure, like Grant’s maggots, or other types of organic waste, such as leftover food, offal, and grains discarded by breweries.

 

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