Safety and risk: What about food and mouth?

We’re proposing a new system where food waste is converted to livestock feed in centralised processing facilities which are carefully managed and easier to regulate. This system is successfully used in Japan and South Korea. With the correct biosecurity measures in place, it is perfectly safe to eat waste-fed pork. Cooking leftover food renders it safe for pig. Pathogens such as Foot and Mouth Disease and Classical Swine Fever are effectively eliminated by heat treatment.

An expert seminar examined the viability of feeding treated surplus food to pigs and chickens. It examined the hazards and risk factors, and the environmental benefits. The panel concluded the practice is viable provided certain safety measures are enforced involving a combination of heat treatment and acidification and a system to prevent cross-contamination.

In the United States heat-treated meat-containing surplus food is fed to pigs, and the US has been Foot and Mouth free since 1929.  The practice is common for example in Las Vegas where large buffet-style restaurants and pig farms incorporate leftovers in their business model.

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. That’s why countries like Japan and South Korea encourage this practice instead of banning it.  Moreover, in the context of the REFRESH partnership, Feedback is working with top microbiologists to ensure the risks are fully managed when we apply the Japanese system in the UK and Europe.

Is it legal to feed any food waste to pigs?

Yes, under current law certain food can be fed to pigs, for example, bread, dairy, fruit and vegetables. But the legislation is confusing and results in lots of permissible food not being fed to pigs because people are worried about getting it wrong. To address this, we have developed a prototype web app to help food businesses determine whether their surplus food is suitable for animal feed and navigate the relevant legislation.

Should we be eating pigs at all?

Veggies, and especially vegans, are heroes for their efforts to balance out Western overconsumption and meat excess. However, in a future sustainable food system there is a role to play for farm animals, in significantly reduced numbers.

We encourage individuals to eat less and better meat. Meat fed on food waste is a sustainable option. Pigs have a role to play in a circular, stable, low-input food system. Pigs are efficient at turning leftovers into delicious pork. Pigs and humans are meant to live and sustain each other like this – it’s a win, win.

What’s wrong with feeding pigs on commercial feed?

Pigs are now being fed crops that people could otherwise eat, such as wheat, soy and maize. This increase in demand puts pressure on global food supplies, exacerbates global food price volatility, and contributes to global hunger. The United Nations estimates that if farmers all around the world fed their livestock on agricultural by-products, and on the food that we currently waste, enough grain would be liberated to feed an extra three billion people – more than the additional number expected to be sharing our planet by 2050.

Shouldn’t we be feeding surplus food to people, not animals?

That’s absolutely right, and where possible all safe and edible unsold food should be used for human consumption, for example, being diverted to food redistributors who provide meals for vulnerable members of society. Check out our food waste pyramid here.

How can feeding food waste to pigs help farmers?

For many pig farmers 60-75% of their costs in rearing their animals can come from the cost of commercial feed. With people and farm animals competing with each other for food, the price of both animal feed and food for humans is rising. This is making it increasingly expensive for farmers to feed their animals, and many pig farmers are going out of business due to spiraling costs.

New research has shown that over 75% of UK 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.

Being vegan is the most sustainable option; why don’t you encourage people to adopt a vegan diet?

We believe farm animals can play a role in a sustainable and fair food system, especially in local self-sustaining agro-forestry farms, where they soak up surplus, make the most efficient use of leftovers, or make the most of land that can only be used for pasture, and produce manure for the farming, energy production, etc. We envision a food system where meat and animal-based products are eaten on very special occasions only, and for those who need it in small portions for health reasons.

Why don’t we just compost food waste or send it to anaerobic-digesting plants?

Composting and anaerobic digestion are costly methods of disposal and whilst they are much better than landfill, using food waste as livestock feed is environmentally and economically preferable. The carbon emissions savings of feeding food waste to pigs can be around 20 times greater than sending the same food waste for anaerobic digestion. Check out our food waste pyramid here.