Expert panel concludes that feeding leftovers to pigs is safe

20th Apr 18 by Christina O'Sullivan

The evidence shows we can safely feed surplus food to pigs.

The current method of livestock production is inherently wasteful. 36% of world crops are fed to livestock but animal-based foods (meat and dairy) only deliver 12% of the world’s food calories.

At Feedback, we envision a world where there are no compromises on animal welfare, not a single tree is felled to make way for livestock grazing or feed crop land and the use of agricultural land is determined by best yield in nutritional terms and lowest environmental impact. This is why we want to return to the practice of feeding surplus food to pigs.

The 9000 year old practice of feeding food waste to pigs was banned in the EU following the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth which was started by a UK farmer illegally feeding untreated food waste to pigs. The safety concerns of this practice were addressed by an expert panel. An expert seminar was held to review food waste treatment and risk in relation to feeding food waste to pigs and chickens. The panel was made up of top veterinary epidemiologists, microbiologists and pig nutritionists from the Universities of Leeds, Cambridge and Wageningen, APHA-DEFRA and the European Food Standards Agency.

Catering and retail food surplus is fed to pigs in Japan and the United States after treatment to ensure its safety. Pigs are omnivorous animals, evolved to eat all the kinds of food that humans eat, and there is no evidence that feeding them properly treated food waste is unhealthy either to the animals, or to humans.

The Japanese system was presented to the panel; surplus food is treated and turned into feed at central processing facilities which are carefully managed. This produces feed at 40-60% of the cost of conventional feed. The pork is then sold as eco-pork. On an EU level feeding pigs on treated food waste at similar rates to Japan could reduce the land used to grow feed crops for European pigs by over 20%

The hazards and risk factors, such as animal pathogens and cross-contamination, were outlined and discussed. On balance, the panel concluded that from a technical point of view feeding food waste to pigs is viable provided certain safety measures are enforced; namely a combination of heat treatment and acidification. These safety measures need to be complimented with a system design to prevent cross-contamination using biosecurity measures and proven logistical and HACCP approaches (zoning, one directional process flows, dedicated sealed storage etc). A crucial next step identified by the panel is investigating the business case of this practice to ensure it is economically feasible for the EU context.

It is possible to build a livestock production model that works with the planet not against it. The evidence shows we can safely feed surplus food to pigs, we know this practice has massive environmental benefits and has the potential to help pig farmers thrive.

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