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Swill-feeding Can be Made Safe, Says Campaigner

17 October 2013
National Pig Association - The voice of the UK pig industry

UK - There are risks in feeding waste food to pigs, admitted environmental campaigner Tristram Stuart when he addressed the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology in the House of Commons.

He acknowledged the concerns of the National Pig Association, over the safety and quality of swill.

"But the proper response to a risk is to manage it properly," he said. "There are ways round the logistical problems and there are huge benefits available.

"Carrying on the way we are is not an option. We cannot carry on cutting down the Rain Forest indefinitely, and we cannot carry on using feed that should be available for people, to feed our pigs in Europe."

He cited Japan and South Korea as having "very safe, technologically advanced" food-waste recycling plants.

In the Japanese plants, supermarket and catering waste was fed through a tube where it reached the correct temperature for effective pasteurisation, he said.

"This is quite an easy system to regulate, with a thermometer in the tube which can be digitally connected to an enforcement agency."

The waste feed was then treated with lactobacillus which turned it into a "food waste yoghurt" which gave it a 12-day shelf-life — long enough to get it delivered to pig farms.

The treated product was called "Eco-feed" in Japan and sold at a premium as "Eco-pork", he said.

But English producer John Rigby, who used to swill-feed his pigs, told the meeting that by the time the United Kingdom swill ban was introduced in 2001 he was finding there was no market for his swill-fed pigs.

And vet Jill Thomson, representing the Pig Veterinary Society, said that many producers had found that liquid-feed systems froze up during cold winters — so in this country treated swill would have to be dried, which would add cost.

Mr Stuart said feeding waste food to pigs would be kinder to the environment than sending it to landfill, or even to anaerobic digestion plants.

He calculated that sending a tonne of waste food to anaerobic digestion would save 143 kilos of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, "assuming you are using not just the energy — but also the heat produced, which most plants in the United Kingdom are not".

If the same waste food were fed to pigs it would displace the need to cultivate the grains and pulses currently being grown to feed pigs, he said, and that would mean a saving of 236 kilos of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

"And if you include the impact of land-use change — primarily deforestation in the Amazon Basin — you save at least 20 times more carbon dioxide by feeding your food waste to pigs rather than sending it to anaerobic digestion."

He told the meeting that if a lot of the maize, wheat and soya used in Europe for feeding pigs were not fed to pigs, it would liberate food supplies for people on the other side of the world "who are buying wheat on the same world market as we are, and who are indirectly affected because we are outbidding them for that food."

It would not be easy to feed waste to pigs safely, he admitted. "But of course we can do it. We have a relatively safe human supply chain and I see no reason why we cannot have an equally safe system for feeding pigs."

The economic benefits to pig farmers would be considerable, he claimed. "They stand to save a lot of money, as will people in the catering industry who are currently paying to get rid of their waste food. That waste has a value and can be sold for at least a minimal amount."

He called for robust research into ways and means of safely treating waste food for use as pig feed.

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