Sustainable soy remains key to UK pig production

Pig sector exploring alternative options
calendar icon 22 June 2023
clock icon 3 minute read

While the UK pig sector is constantly exploring alternative protein sources, it is nowhere near being in a position yet to move away from imported soya entirely, according to National Pork Association chief executive Lizzie Wilson.

Wilson stressed that the industry increasingly importing its soya from sustainable, deforestation-free sources, according to a news release from the organisation.

Farmers’ union the Landworkers’ Alliance has joined forces with Sustain, Pasture for Life and UK grain and pulse pioneers Hodmedod to launch a report calling for the pig and poultry sectors to reduce global demand for soya to protect the planet’s last remaining rainforests.

It sought to show how exploring alternatives to soya-based pig and poultry feeds, including home-grown peas and beans, co-products, by-products and food waste, could contribute significantly to this reduction in demand. However, it acknowledged that feeding livestock on home-grown proteins would mean reducing our poultry intake by 86% and pork by 82%.

Reduced reliance

Wilson explained that UK pig farmers have already reduced their reliance on soy when she was interviewed on the subject on BBC Radio Four’s Farming Today programme.

“The pig sector does use a significant proportion of soya, but we have managed to reduce that inclusion by half, and I think we're at the lowest level now that is feasible,” she said.

“We can't just remove soya completely from the diet because it is still the most efficient source of protein available and is easier to digest for the pig, so it creates much less nitrogen out of the back end," she added.

She pointed out that 70% of soya imported into the UK is accredited as coming from sources carrying no deforestation risk and, of that remaining 30%, around 27% is from land with low risk of any deforestation.

She said alternative protein sources were not going to be this ‘magical, cheap silver bullet’ people sometimes think they are because of the logistics and cost associated with them and the lack of efficiency compared with soya.

“If you look at the alternatives, there is no easy and straightforward option. If it was that simple, we would have been doing it by now. Locally-sourced cereals and legumes are far less protein dense, insect protein is still a number of years off and food waste comes with a significant disease risk,” she added.

Asked about the need to cut pork and poultry consumption by more than 80% to facilitate alternative proteins, she added: “I'll let them break that to the general public. At the end of the day we're still only 40 to 50% self-sufficient in pigmeat in the UK and we are simply supplying a demand.”

She reiterated the UK- and EU-wide drive towards sustainably sourced soya and stressed that, while there is no simple solution, the industry was taking the issue seriously.

Alternative proteins

The British pig industry uses 1.23m tonnes a year of co-product from the human food chain -notably rapemeal, wheatfeed, biscuitmeal, cake, bread, cereal products, starch extraction products and whey - and this accounts for 43.9% of total pig feed produced.

The pig industry has historically used other sources of protein such as meat and bone meal (MBM), which is now referred to as Processed Animal Protein (PAP) and food waste or swill. The feeding of animal protein however was made illegal in all species in 1996, by the EU due to concerns around Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies following BSE.

The feeding of food waste, or swill feeding, was banned throughout the EU in 2002 due to notifiable disease risk, following the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Generally, alternative protein sources are either not yet commercially available or not available in sufficient quantities to supply both pig and poultry industries.

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