Can we have our meat and eat it too? The role of waste-fed pork in a sustainable food system

5th Oct 17 by Christina O'Sullivan

Our current method of livestock production is inherently wasteful.

Two major reports highlight the urgent need to build a better food system and specifically the need for a radical change in how livestock is produced.

The Food Climate Research Network’s latest report gives a damning portrayal of current livestock production; ‘To raise the animals we eat and use, we have cleared forests, driven species to extinction, polluted air and waterways, and released vast quantities of GHG emissions into the atmosphere. The rearing of animals has literally transformed the face of this earth.’

A new report by WWF specifically looks at the negative impact that livestock feed has on the planet. It highlights that the sheer scale of land needed to produce animal feed to satiate our ever-increasing demand for cheap meat has devastating effects on species and their habitats, especially in vulnerable areas such as the Amazon. The report highlights many sobering realities – the UK food supply is directly linked to 33 species extinctions and in 2010 we used an area the size of Yorkshire to produce the soy to feed our livestock. If global demand grows as expected, we would need to increase feed production by 80%; if we really want to build a sustainable future we cannot keep feeding livestock this way.

What’s The Pig Idea?

At Feedback, we have consistently argued that our 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. New research highlights that livestock production is the least efficient process in our food system, with losses of 78% or 840 million tonnes. Inefficiencies in livestock production alone accounts for 40% of all losses of harvested crops. This is why we want to return to the common-sense approach of feeding food waste to pigs – that’s the Pig Idea.

Our vision for a sustainable global food system

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 means Less Meat and Better Meat.

WWF’s report highlights feed innovations such as feeding insects to livestock but we encourage the traditional practice of feeding food waste to pigs. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. Pigs are efficient at turning leftovers into delicious pork. Pigs and humans are meant to live and sustain each other like this, and have done so for centuries. FCRN’s latest report recognises that an ‘ecological leftovers’ approach to livestock production which involves feeding food waste to pigs along with eating grass-fed animals could provide a population of 9 billion with about 20g animal protein per person per day – this is significantly less than current Western levels of consumption but it is more than enough.

We can have our meat and eat it too – it is possible to build a livestock production model that works with the planet not against it. It involves eating less and better meat, it involves radical change – but not radical thinking. Throughout history, we have fed pigs on food waste, it was actively encouraged during the war. To create a better food system we need to  bring this practice into the 21st century by following the Japanese model of making food waste safe for pigs through heat treatment and fermentation. Feedback is working hard with the EU-funded REFRESH partnership to make this happen now.

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