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The Pig Idea Responds to Criticisms from Certain Sections of Industry

20 December 2013
National Pig Association - The voice of the UK pig industry

UK - The Pig Idea campaign, which is calling for food waste to be put back on the menu for pigs in Britain and across Europe, has issued a response to claims by representatives of the National Pig Association (NPA) and the British Pig Executive (BPEX) that the campaign, while "well-­intentioned" and "superficially attractive", is guilty of over-simplifying the issue of feeding waste food to pigs.

In fact, there is more common ground between The Pig Idea, the NPA and BPEX than might be supposed. For example, the NPA’s position paper on feeding food waste to pigs1 states that "Central processing plants for waste food may be an option for the future". This is exactly what The Pig Idea campaign is calling for: a well-­regulated, well-­monitored system of recycling plants that can convert food waste – including catering waste and other types of food waste not currently permitted by law – safely into livestock feed.

The NPA’s apparently contradictory claim that The Pig Idea campaign is "bound to fail" was recently clarified by NPA representatives: they mean that there is not at this moment in place a robustly enforced system for the safe processing of food waste into pig feed and therefore the law cannot be lifted immediately. Of course The Pig Idea agrees with this: and that’s what the campaign is calling for.

The NPA rightly points out that establishing a modern system for the recycling of food waste into livestock feed brings with it "a raft of issues that must be addressed first." Again, this is in line with the position of The Pig Idea, which is calling for more research to be conducted into these issues (and indeed its campaigners have been doing so since 2008). The British Government eventually commissioned a study2 on this subject which was published by the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) in 2013, and its conclusion was that more work needs to be done on the details of how such a system could be established and the potential environmental and economic benefits of doing so.

BPEX, which recently contacted high-­profile supporters of The Pig Idea to warn them that the campaign was guilty of over-­simplifying the issue (whilst also misrepresenting the campaign by stating incorrectly that it calls for the use of domestic food waste as livestock feed), has since conceded that "no-­?one would disagree" with the proposal that centralised food-­waste-­to-­pig-­feed recycling plants are a possibility for the future.

The NPA, BPEX and The Pig Idea share the view that any system for the safe recycling of food waste has to deal robustly with potential risks. Most prominent of these risks is food waste becoming a vector for animal diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease, Classical Swine Fever and African Swine Fever. This subject has been studied in depth, and every study agrees that cooking food waste is 100 per cent effective at killing the pathogens to which pigs are susceptible.

Producing feed for livestock requires a licence and oversight from the Local Authority, in the same way that producing food for people does. With such regulation in place, farmers and the public can be assured that food waste recycling plants will operate safely. In the plants visited by The Pig Idea co-­founder Tristram Stuart in Japan,3 all the food waste is sterilised as it passes through a tube. Such a system can be regulated by connecting a thermometer in the tube to a computer, which in turn is connected to a regulatory authority with oversight of the industry.

In weighing up the risks, costs and benefits, it is important to remember that the risk of animal disease from food waste does not disappear just because we aren’t feeding it to pigs. Composting plants and anaerobic digestion plants also have to ensure that any food waste entering their facilities is sterilised by heat, because the fertiliser they produce is spread on farmland where livestock can come into contact with it. Meanwhile, much untreated food waste ends up in landfill sites that are populated by vermin (including birds) capable of dropping infected materials on nearby farmland, which could also cause a disease outbreak. Arguably, a safe, economically viable system for the sterilising and recycling of this material into a valuable product would help to contain and manage such risks, rather than exacerbate them.

Those in favour of maintaining the ban often claim it is needed because there will always be law-­?breakers who get around the rules. It is certainly true that we need a regulated system to minimise the risks posed by such behavior; but it is by no means true that the existing laws are never broken. Many pig farmers already feed potato peels and the like from kitchens to pigs, partly because they hold the laws in disrepute. The Pig Idea therefore disagrees with the NPA’s claim that the current ban is 100 per cent enforceable. Introducing a legalised regulatory system would be one way of managing this risk better.

Another risk cited by the NPA and BPEX is that of contamination by unwanted substances: someone throws a lightbulb or bottle of bleach in the pig bucket, for example. However, just as any company found to be supplying its customers with contaminated food would be shut down, so would any company providing pig farmers with contaminated feed. Moreover, harmful materials such as pieces of plastic can and do find their way into conventional feed.

There is perhaps less consensus between The Pig Idea and the NPA and BPEX regarding the environmental impact of conventional pig feed – particularly with regard to its use of imported soy, the production of which is linked to the destruction of valuable ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado grasslands. Pig farmer and BPEX board member Alastair Butler wrote in The Huffington Post4 that "many" pig farmers plan to use soy procured from Argentina and North America through a "responsible sourcing" scheme (the Round Table on Responsible Soy). The benefits of this scheme are not clear, and besides, any net increase in the global demand for soy will lead ultimately to the clearing of more virgin land to create soy monocultures, destroying more habitats of vulnerable species of wildlife, while increasing soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Butler also points out, as does the NPA, that some British pig farmers are replacing some of the soy in their feed with home-grown legumes. However, in our globalised food system, this still increases the net demand for agricultural land – which still has the knock-on effect elsewhere in the world of increasing deforestation. Indeed, in many cases, using local pulses requires even more land, because these crops aren’t as efficient as soy at producing protein per acre.

A study commissioned by BPEX did in fact highlight that the production of feed was overwhelmingly the biggest environmental impact of pork production, and that replacing conventional feed with alternatives was an enormous opportunity for the pig industry.5

There is an issue of social justice here that the NPA and BPEX do not address: namely that by buying huge quantities of grain on the global market to feed our livestock, we are diminishing the ability of people in poor countries to feed themselves. Studies show that around 36 per cent of the global harvest is used to feed livestock, including 97 per cent of all soy production6, and 74 per cent of maize.7 Not only is this a waste of limited resources (farm animals only give back on average around a third of the calories they consume in the form of meat, milk and eggs); North American and European livestock are effectively outbidding poor African, Asian and Latin American people on the world food market.

The solution is clear. We need to use livestock for the purpose for which they were first domesticated: that is, to increase net food availability by harnessing resources that can’t otherwise be used. The UN has estimated that if we were to feed livestock primarily on waste and surplus food and agricultural byproducts, we could liberate enough grain to feed three billion people8 – far more than the number we expect to be sharing our planet with by 2050. In the case of pigs, that means eating up waste and by-products from our food supply. During the Second World War, these were the only types of food that could legally be fed to pigs; feeding them grain that could have been eaten by humans was a fineable offence. Mr Butler and the NPA make the point that even today, the British pig industry uses around a million tonnes of ‘co-­ and byproducts’ per year, amounting to around forty per cent of pig feed (though some of these ingredients, such as palm oil kernel, also contribute to the destruction of rainforests). We should be aiming for as close to 100 per cent as possible. Much more can be done under current legislation, and still more would be possible if the ban on feeding certain types of food waste (such as catering waste9) were lifted.

It is time to lay aside the differences and focus on constructive dialogue – and The Pig Idea is optimistic about the possibility of achieving this, as the campaign presents very substantial economic savings for farmers who currently spend an average of sixty per cent of their costs on feed. Pig farmers in Europe are therefore at a substantial disadvantage compared to pig farmers in other parts of the world where using food waste is encouraged, such as in Japan, China, parts of the USA, New Zealand and across Africa and Asia. Waste producers in the catering sector also stand to gain by avoiding the increasing costs of disposing of food waste. A sustainable industry recycling food waste into pig feed would create jobs, profits and huge environmental benefits. Following a lively debate about the pros and cons of re-­?introducing swill-­feeding at the Young NPA’s recent National Meeting (which brings together pig farmers under the age of forty), Tristram Stuart asked the audience how many of them had started the day being against the idea but were now open to the idea. Encouragingly, around a third of them raised their hands.

It is time to lay aside the differences and focus on constructive dialogue – and The Pig Idea is optimistic about the possibility of achieving this, as the campaign presents very substantial economic savings for farmers who currently spend an average of sixty per cent of their costs on feed. Pig farmers in Europe are therefore at a substantial disadvantage compared to pig farmers in other parts of the world where using food waste is encouraged, such as in Japan, China, parts of the USA, New Zealand and across Africa and Asia. Waste producers in the catering sector also stand to gain by avoiding the increasing costs of disposing of food waste. A sustainable industry recycling food waste into pig feed would create jobs, profits and huge environmental benefits. Following a lively debate about the pros and cons of re-­?introducing swill-­feeding at the Young NPA’s recent National Meeting (which brings together pig farmers under the age of forty), Tristram Stuart asked the audience how many of them had started the day being against the idea but were now open to the idea. Encouragingly, around a third of them raised their hands.

1 The National Pig Association, November 2013, "NPA position of feeding ‘waste food’ to pigs" http://www.npa-uk.org.uk/Pages/waste_food.html

2 Fera, 2013 (research conducted 2011-­?2012), "Recycling of catering and food waste" http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Complete d=0&ProjectID=17580

3 Several Japanese food waste recycling plants are described in detail in Stuart’s book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, Penguin (2009).

4 Alastair Butler, 26 November 2013, "The Problem with the ‘Pig Idea’", The Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/alastair-­?butler/pig-­?idea-­?free-­?range_b_4344209.html

5 Kingston, et.al, 2009. Scoping Life Cycle Assessment of Pork Production: Final Report. Environmental Resources Management. http://www.bpex.org.uk/prices-­?facts-­? figures/documents/LifeCycelAssmntofPorklaunchversion.pdf

6 Henning Steinfeld et al, 2006, "Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental issues and options", UN FAO http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.htm

7 Emily Cassidy et al, August 2013, "Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare", Environmental Research Letters 8 034015 http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-­?9326/8/3/034015/pdf/1748-­?9326_8_3_034015.pdf

8 Will find reference for this from your book

9 The latest study by the Government’s Waste Resources and Action Programme revealed that 920,000 tonnes of food waste are produced by catering outlets each year, and only 12% is currently recycled. WRAP, November 2013, "Overview of Waste in the UK Hospitality and Food Service Sector" http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Overview%20of%20Waste%20in%20the%20UK%2 0Hospitality%20and%20Food%20Service%20Sector%20FINAL_0.pdf

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