They may be icky, but we should really start appreciating maggots, considering that they could play a crucial role in combatting the problem of food waste.
These voracious eaters are able to consume massive amounts of leftovers. Over the course of four hours, two pounds of maggots can eat about 4 pounds of food. Maggots also help expedite the composting process, and they can be dried and turned into animal feed.
For now, due to varying regulations, maggots are being used in a limited way on farms across the globe, but activists are hopeful that this will eventually become an industry norm.
This comes at a time when the food waste crisis has hit global proportions. One-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, and when it’s sent to landfills to decompose, it releases methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Using maggots to dispose of uneaten food could reduce the amount of food sent to landfills.
For example, a farm in southwestern China has embraced maggots, buying up leftovers from restaurants and feeding them to the larvae of black soldier flies. The fattened up insects, in turn, are then used as high-protein animal feed and their feces as organic fertilizer, according to science news site Phys.org.
In China, each person discards about 65 pounds of food a year, per Phys.org.
Identifying innovative ways to reduce food waste is critical in the U.S., where it’s an even greater issue than in China. According to a 2011 report from the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization, the average American squanders about 250 pounds of food a year.
Serving up insect larvae to livestock is restricted in the U.S., but it’s being used for some specific types of animal feed.
Some dried black soldier fly larvae, for example, have been approved for use in commercial salmon feed.
A number of companies are seeking broader regulatory approval for the use of larvae in commercial animal feed, said Nicole Civita, an attorney at Handel Food Law LLC and director of the Food Recovery Project at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
People who raise animals at home aren’t subject to government regulations, and Civita encourages them to let their livestock dine on such insect “delicacies.”
Turning maggots into compost is a more common practice in the U.S. There’s even a name for it: black soldier fly composting. When the larvae are introduced, food scraps are turned into compost at a more rapid pace, compared to conventional methods, Civita added.
Such processes are also helpful in promoting closed-loop agriculture. That’s when all nutrients and organic matter on a farm are recycled back into the soil they grew in.
Civita, who also works at Sterling College in Kansas, said her students are “excited” about black soldier fly composting and are looking into developing a pilot program on the university’s farm.
“Enlisting some of our smallest planetary neighbors in the fight against food waste is a promising idea that can support adoption of more agro-ecological practices,” Civita told HuffPost.