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25 April 2018: UK pig farmers support lifting the ban on feeding pigs with leftovers, while experts say safety concerns can be overcome

New research has shown that over 75% of pig farmers and agricultural professionals support overturning the current ban on feeding leftovers to pigs. A survey conducted by Cambridge University at the British Pig and Poultry Fair in 2016 found that respondents who were in favour of using leftovers that are no longer fit for human consumption believe it will reduce costs, increase profitability and has environmental benefits.

The 9000 year-old practice of using swill to feed pigs was banned in the EU following the Food and Mouth outbreak in 2001, which was caused by a farmer feeding non-heat treated food waste to his pigs. A recent expert panel convened by the REFRESH food waste programme, examined safety concerns similar to those expressed by farmers in the survey. UK and EU academic and government experts concluded that from a technical point of view feeding surplus food to pigs is safe for both livestock and humans, provided certain safety measures such as heat treatment are enforced.

Feed costs present a significant challenge to pig farmers. In October 2017, feed costs in the UK made up 62% of total pork production costs, up from 59% in 2016. In Japan, however, industrial food-to-feed recycling plants deliver safe food surplus-based feed at half of the cost of conventional feed.

Overturning the ban would also have many environmental benefits, including reducing demand for unsustainable sources of feed such as soya and fish meal and on crops that could feed humans directly, such as wheat. Feeding pigs on treated food surplus at similar rates to Japan could reduce the land used to grow feed crops for European pigs by over 20% and “reduce demand for up to 268,000 hectares of soybean production”.

The survey captured views within the mainstream pig industry, with support for overturning the ban among both small-scale and large-scale producers. 73% of the pig farmers surveyed had farms with more than 1,000 pigs.

Karen Luyckx, Feedback’s animal feed specialist, said:

“The study shows that pig farmers across the UK are ready to bring the traditional practice of feeding surplus food to pigs into the 21st century. In 2010 we used an area the size of Yorkshire to produce the soy to feed our livestock – that is unsustainable. Pig farmers recognise the cost efficiencies and strong environmental benefits of feeding leftovers that have been processed to ensure they are safe. We urgently need to change how we feed pigs in the UK so we hope the government also recognises the value of this practice and takes forward these findings to ensure the current ban can be replaced with legislation that guarantees safety.

“Feedback is now further researching the economic viability and practicalities of adapting the Japanese heat-treatment and biosecurity model to the UK context. For example, only licenced, well-regulated processing plants should be allowed to produce feed from leftovers.”