The AD industry as it currently operates is causing serious harm to food, farming communities and soils.
AD diverts food that is perfectly edible away from human consumption at a time when food bank usage is at an all-time high. Quite simply, for many food businesses, AD is a cheaper and easier option for surplus food disposal than redistribution to charities. We know this shocking waste is happening on a massive scale at supermarkets, in food manufacturers and in wholesalers. Tesco’s data alone shows that they send 20,000 tonnes of edible food to AD in 2016/17.
Instead of converting farm and food waste into energy, greater yields can be gained from feeding intensively grown crops, especially maize, directly into digestors. This is still currently subsidised with public money. Very quickly this has led to a situation where growing “energy crops” has started to threaten food production. In 2016, nearly 30% of all maize grown in England was grown for the production of biogas. The National Farmers Union’s target for AD would mean that by 2020, more than 1,200 square kilometres of prime arable land in the UK would be used just to grow crops for AD – a land mass that could be used to instead grow 5.5 million tonnes of potatoes.
Moreover, maize requires heavy pesticide and tractor use which leaves the soil much more vulnerable to compaction and erosion than other crops. This is highly worrying in a context where Environment Minister Michael Gove recently suggested some parts of the UK may only have ’30 to 40 harvests left’. Digestors are destroying soils and land abroad too; digestors are being ‘fed’ food waste that could have been fed to livestock. This forces farmers to import their feed from abroad rather than use locally produced feed. For example, in Scotland the AD industry’s widespread use of distillery grain waste (traditionally fed by local farmers to livestock) has raised prices to the point where many farmers now import protein feed from South America – with devastating consequences on one of the world’s most sensitive ecosystem, the Amazon.
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