Fera Science has opened a £1m centre at Sand Hutton to help the country grow maggots to feed pets and farm animals.

The ‘specialist insect laboratory’ aims to address national and global challenges over food production, whilst helping avoid the deforestation caused by using soy to feed animals.

Fera Science CEO Dr Andrew Swift told the Press the development of the 2000ft centre will “accelerate the growth of a new industry where the UK could be a world leader.”

The building is now finished and is being staffed. It will be commissioned this month and can host 25 researchers.

Food waste is a growing problem, but Dr Swift says this can be fed to maggots or insect larvae, who can grow rapidly, achieving 10,000-times their body mass after two weeks.

This creates inspect-based proteins, oils and fats which can be used to feed livestock such as pigs, poultry and also salmon. At present much such animal feeds use soy, which causes deforestation to create such growing areas in rain forest areas.

Dr Swift stressed the insect proteins are not aimed at human consumption, adding animal feed presents a far bigger market opportunity. Already Yora dog food uses insects in its feed and European Union regulations allow it in pig and poultry feeds, though the UK has yet to allow this.

The lab will help companies experiment to create the best conditions for growing such inspects. It will also advise central government on regulating such an industry. Changes are expected in the next year or two before the products can be safely sold when businesses are expected to spend “hundreds of millions” building their own ‘reactors’ to grow the maggot farms.

“It’s all going in the right direction. It’s moving fast,” he said.

Last week, the laboratory was opened by Tamara Finkelstein, Permanent Secretary at Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

She said: “This is a critical time for innovation in biotechnology and the insect unit has the potential to reduce our impact on the environment, making progress towards a more circular economy.

“The breadth of national and international partners involved will help ensure its success and demonstrates Fera’s international reputation for taking scientific innovation to new markets.”

Fera Science has further plans for Sand Hutton and the region under the BioYorkshire initiative.

Working alongside the University of York and Askham Bryan College, proposals include establishing two new facilities including the research cube, a highly automated control environment supporting Fera’s work into plant and insect farming research, as well as a packaging hub.