Great grub? INSECTS... OUR MEAL CRICKET TO THE FUTURE.
Deep within a sprawling hi-tech government research complex, there's a room that looks like something out of a horror movie.
The cramped, humid lab is lined with white tents containing thousands of buzzing flies. The stench is stomach-churning.
In another part of the room a seething mass of creepy-crawlies squirm on a tray. Hundreds more are drying on sheets in an open oven, and a nearby vat contains millions of shrivelled grub carcasses.
Welcome to the PROteINSECT maggot lab at the Food and Environment Research Agency - the nerve centre of a PS3million, EU-funded project that might just save the world.
Scientists here - just outside York - are working to solve worldwide food shortages and may well provide us with new medicines and a new fuel for our cars in the process.
All they need to do is to work out how to mass-produce maggots, turn them into a safe source of protein and then convince us to eat them.
Governments and food agencies are increasingly serious about using insects as nutrition for both farm animals and humans.
The projections are worrying. Global food production needs to increase
by 70% by 2050 to stop catastrophic famine, but the majority of agricultural land is already being used.
Consumption of meat has increased 20-fold in 40 years and will keep increasing. Raising livestock is expensive. Soya, the main protein source in animal feed, costs up to PS1,000 a ton. Domestically we only produce 2% of the soya we need. We are reliant on imports.
Politicians and scientists agree that Europe is facing a huge and imminent protein deficit which could be filled by insects. Maggotbased meals could be as common on restaurant menus in the next 20 years as prawns and chicken.
Crickets - already a snack in several countries - need to eat just 2kg of protein to produce 1kg of edible food - whereas cattle need 8kg to produce 1kg.
Dried maggots contain 50% protein. Insect protein is similar to that of fish, pork or beef, but less fatty. It also contains high levels of vitamins and minerals.
An automated maggot farm could produce 200 times more protein per hectare than a soya farm. There are six million species of insects - they grow quickly and easily and are environmentallyfriendly as they feed on waste.
The case for bug pasties is so convincing that last week officials and scientists from around the world attended a conference in Holland to discuss ways of introducing insect-derived foods.
Experts at PROteINSECT are at the forefront of this food revolution.
They are currently testing ways to grow and process maggots with the aim of turning them into a sustainable, safe animal feed and eventually introducing them into human diets.
Project co-ordinator Elaine Fitches explains: "Our goal is to make meat production more sustainable, reducing reliance on protein imports from across the world and making meat cheaper.
"One of the longer term aims is to look at the feasibility of introducing insect protein for direct human consumption."
Scientists involved in the PROteINSECT project use a PS1million nuclear scanner to analyse house fly maggots.
DIRTY Elaine says: "It is complex - we look at the best conditions to grow them in, how to process them, how to extract the protein from them.
"They have been forgotten as a food source. House flies are considered a dirty pest. But to survive, they have a strong immune system which means there is also the potential to extract biotics from them to be used in medicines."
Elsewhere in the lab, one of the vials contains maggot oil, which is a product chemically similar to palm oil to be used in engines.
Elaine says: "You could power a tractor with it, but you'd need an awful lot of maggots."
She admits it will take a big change of attitude to get us eating insects. "People might accept it as an added ingredient if it tasted good," she says. "The trick is making something out of insects that doesn't look like insects."
In Europe, several companies have developed systems for growing and processing insects for animal feed and human consumption.
"Breeding insects has 10 times less impact on the environment than the breeding of cows and pigs," he says. "Plus, they are very healthy."
According to him, raw mealworm larvae taste like hazelnuts and African grasshoppers taste like walnut, bacon or chicken, depending on how they're cooked.
Jean-Gabriel Levon runs a company which creates animal feed from insect meal. He believes the successful introduction of sushi from Asia shows that public attitudes to foods can change.
"It's not the kind of thing you can do in a few years," he says. "It will take decades."
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The trick is making something out of insects that doesn't look like insects ELAINE FITCHES INVOLVED IN THE PROTEINSECT PROJECT
BUG LADY Project co-ordinator Elaine
FLY TIP Insects soon to be on menu
LARVALY TASTE Our Nick tucks into a bowl of maggots
INSECT BITE New food source