Pigs have potential to be environmental heroes – if we can only wean them off destructive soy and cereals. That means reforming the law to feed pigs and chickens on delicious, nutritious surplus food. Martin Bowman, Feedback’s Policy and Campaigns Manager, explores.
Veganism and people cutting down on meat has recently had a meteoric rise in the UK, with tasty plant-based proteins popping up everywhere. From the heated debates over the Greggs vegan sausage roll to supermarkets now stocking much praised vegan burgers, to good old fashioned pulses like lentils and chick peas, tasty alternatives to meat are on the up.
And thank goodness, because meat is currently killing our planet. Livestock production already uses up 75% of agricultural land, generates 14.5% of global carbon emissions, and consumes 36% of calories produced by the world’s harvested crops (only 12% of those global calories make it to human consumption in form of meat and dairy, hugely wasteful). If the world’s food system has already been creaking under the burden of meat production, it has only survived so far because the majority of countries currently consume vastly less meat than wealthy consumers in the US and Europe who currently take far more than their fair share of global resources. If every country in the world adopted the UK’s 2011 average diet and meat consumption, 95% of global habitable land area would be needed for agriculture – up from 50% of land currently used, and involving a disastrous expansion into forest-land. As countries like China and India grow their meat consumption, the planet will collapse under the strain and ballooning carbon emissions from meat unless we radically change course.
That’s why we’re calling for meat consumption to be halved by 50% by 2030, through our Cow in the Room campaign – calling for radical systemic change to save our planet. Get involved!
It’s not just about meat reduction
However, for the foreseeable future, some people will continue to eat meat – so it’s vital to reduce the environmental impact of how that meat is produced if we’re to evade catastrophic climate change and protect the world’s ecosystems and biodiversity. That’s where Feedback’s exciting new research from our Pig Idea campaign comes in.
Feeding surplus food to pigs is an idea that’s taken off in Japan, where the practice is widespread, and the product it produces is so-called “eco-pork” because it’s so much better for the environment. Feeding many types of surplus food has been banned in the EU since the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak, for fear it will cause disease – but Feedback has recently set out innovative proposals for how the practice could be done safely, building on Japan’s hi-tech systems.
The Pig Solution to a Big Problem
A recent study found that reducing global meat production dramatically, but rearing a small number of omnivorous animals like pigs and chickens on unavoidable food waste and by-products would lower the land use of agriculture even more than a vegan diet. This is because surplus food and by-products never compete directly for arable land with human edible crops. This could ease pressure on deforestation, protecting rainforests which are vital for fostering biodiversity and protecting the planet from climate change. As a result, humans could eat a small amount of meat and eggs alongside a tasty diet rich in plant-based proteins.
Feedback’s recent research as part of the REFRESH programme has found that if the UK only fed pigs* on feed made from available by-products and surplus food, there would still be enough pig production to allow 100g of pork per person every ten days. For France, there would be 100g of pork per person per week. This would ensure that pigfeed did not compete with food crops that could be eaten directly by humans, and most importantly, that it doesn’t raise pressure on deforestation through demand for crops like soya. What does 100g of pork look like? It would look like one of these four steaks so on average, each person could have one of these once every 7-10 days (if they wanted to). Tasty! Having far less, more ecologically produced meat, could also raise animal welfare (particularly as so many pig farmers’ cost pressures come from the high cost of conventional feed).
Even in the current food system, feeding pigs on surplus food in Europe could lead to an estimated annual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 5.8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. This is equal to the greenhouse gas emissions saved by taking 3 million UK passenger vehicles off the road, or stopping 13,428,226 barrels of oil being burned. This is in large part because it would displace the need to import crops like soya which are currently common in pigfeed and drive deforestation. Another study came to similar conclusions – calculating that raising the proportion of surplus food fed to pigs could yield a 21.5% reduction in the current land use of industrial EU pork production.
Moving to a better system
Individual behaviour change won’t be enough to solve climate change, so we need to come together and mobilise for political changes to shift our diets for the better, to save our planet from disastrous climate change whilst feeding ourselves on delicious nutritious food. Let’s push for a system where we produce less, and better meat.
Look out for: Feedback have been busy working on some groundbreaking research on feeding surplus food to pigs, as part of EU REFRESH – this blog post has some sneak previews of our findings. The detailed report with all our findings will be available on the REFRESH results page in May. Look for D6.7 technical guidelines on animal feed.
*Note: Grower-finisher pigs, excluding piglet production
Image: Riverford Organic Farmers Ltd