The science

Facts and figures

-36% of world crops are fed to livestock but animal-based foods (meat and dairy) only deliver 12% of the world’s food calories

-Livestock production is the least efficient process in our food system, with losses of 78% or 840 million tonnes

-The land needed to grow feed for European pork is as big as Ireland

-Every year an additional area as big as Yorkshire is cleared in Brazil and Argentina alone for soy to feed livestock globally

-The UK food supply is directly linked to 33 species extinctions

-Using food waste as animal feed scores better on 12 out of 14 environmental and health indicators than anaerobic digestion or composting

Is there a risk posed by feeding food waste to pigs?

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. 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. Moreover, in the context of the REFRESH partnership, Feedback is working with top microbiologists to ensure the risks are fully managed when we develop a system in the UK and Europe.

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.

Watch – food waste being processed in South Korea

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.

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.

Re-framing the concept of risk

The Food Climate Research Network’s recent 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.’ If global demand for meat 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. Instead of just focusing on the risk of feeding food waste to pigs – which extensive scientific research has shown is minimal. We need to look at the risk of not doing this – the risk of destroying the Amazon, of bringing many animals to the brink of extinction and of continuing to feed livestock with grain that could feed people.

Essential reading

Research summary – examining the environmental, economic and safety case for overturning the ban on feeding food waste to pigs

Expert panel on the risk management of using treated surplus food in pig feed

Further reading

Reducing the land use of EU pork production: where there’s swill, there’s a way

Environmental and health impacts of using food waste as animal feed: a comparative analysis of food waste management options

Support amongst UK pig farmers and agricultural stakeholders for the use of food losses in animal feed

Summary Japanese legislation TSE & food waste in animal feed

Leftovers for Livestock: A Legal Guide for Using Food Scraps as Animal Feed

The Pig Swill Ban – A Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut?

Papers on livestock production

Grazed and confused – FCRN

Appetite for destruction – WWF

Gut feelings and possible tomorrows: (where) does animal farming fit?- FCRN