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19 Apr 2014
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Feed pigs food waste, say campaigners

A new campaign launched by environmentalist Tristram Stuart and chef Thomasina Miers is calling on legislation banning some food wastes from being fed to pigs to be overturned.

The Pig Idea argues feeding food waste to pigs is not only ‘safe, efficient’ and ‘cost-effective’, but can also be environmentally friendly by slowing rainforest deforestation and preventing food from going to landfill.

The practice of using food waste from homes and catering as swill was banned in 2001 in light of the foot and mouth crisis, which was thought to have originated on a Northumberland pig farm where livestock were illegally fed untreated food waste.

Currently, food waste from households and catering firms cannot be fed to animals, nor can any food from a commercial firm that is handled under the same roof as meat – unless there is a demonstrable system in place that prevents other material ever coming into contact with meat.

Since then, much of what was formerly pig swill has been replaced with soya grown in South America, and campaigners such as Stuart claim that 97 per cent of global soya production now goes towards animal feed.

Speaking to Resource earlier in the year, Stuart stated his concern that this practice is leading to widespread deforestation in order to make room for crop plantations. He said: “[In Europe], we import 40 million tonnes of soya from South America to feed our livestock. And obviously that contributes to the deforestation of the Amazon – so we’re killing the most biodiverse habitat in the world to produce something that fattens our livestock.”

Current pig feed policies are ‘crazy’

Thomasina Miers, chef and co-founder of the Pig Idea, currently runs the Wahaca chain of Mexican restaurants. Talking to the BBC, she stated her belief that using food waste to feed pigs is a vital idea for the future: “Pigs are the most efficient converter of food waste to calories – we need calories in this world to feed growing populations, but in the meantime all pigs throughout Europe are being fed soya which is being grown in the Amazon basin.

"Rainforests are crucial, but we are chopping them down to feed our pigs and it is just crazy."

Furthermore, the campaign group argues that pigs are currently being fed food that could otherwise go to humans, whilst food waste that could be given to livestock simply goes to landfill, with Stuart arguing: “on top of the environmental impact it puts additional strain on global food supplies... essentially our pigs in Europe are competing with people for food."

The Pig Idea’s website adds: ‘All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US and Europe,’

This echoes a report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which found that between 30 and 50 per cent of food produced globally is never consumed by humans. It also points to successful schemes in Japan, South Korea, China and several US states, where food waste is given to livestock through a tightly regulated system.

Opposition

However, not everyone agrees with the Pig Idea. Speaking to the BBC, pig farmer John Rigby argues that feeding pigs food waste is potentially dangerous, as well as running counter to the accountability many consumers expect from food production.

He said: ”The horsemeat scandal highlights the need for traceability, the knowing where everything has come from", but using mixed food waste “breaks all of the promises on traceability that the supermarkets want to put in front of the consumer".

Rigby also contested The Pig Idea claim that feeding pigs food waste would improve the quality of meat produced by giving pigs a more diverse diet: “The quality of the meat is far poorer [when swill is used]. Swill contains an awful lot of animal fat, and these animal fats produce a very greasy, oily fat on the meat, it's not very presentable, it looks poor quality. No supermarket today would stock it."

The Pig Idea is to hold a free ‘feast’ in November using food that it states would otherwise have gone to waste. Celebrity chefs will also produce meals for the public using pork from a local farm.

Read more about The Pig Idea.

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