Farm animals consume over one third of global crops but only deliver 12 per cent of the world population’s calories. Eating meat is not only inefficient, it’s a disaster for our rainforests which are cut down for soy to be grown. A whopping 88 per cent of soybeans in the UK are imported from Brazil, with virtually all of soybean meal eaten by livestock (97 per cent globally).
No doubt this is why many of you are already choosing to be vegans, veggies, flexitarians or ecotarians. Whichever one it is, at the very least I hope we can agree that meat and dairy have to be seen as very special treats. But there is something else that we can do, too: ensure that the meat humankind does eat is as high welfare and has as low a carbon footprint as possible.
This is where the Pig Idea comes in: instead of feeding virgin crops like soy, barley or maize to pigs and chickens, we should let these omnivores eat our leftovers, as they’ve done for thousands of years. Indeed, during both world wars it was illegal to feed pigs any food that was deemed fit for human consumption.
But now, instead of enforcing strict safety regulations and employing 21st-century technology to prevent disease such as the terrible foot and mouth outbreak of 2001, there is an outright ban (first introduced by the UK, followed by the EU soon after) on feeding kitchen and restaurant leftovers to pigs and chickens.
Recent research by Cambridge University concludes that changing the law and ‘feeding our food waste, or swill, to pigs could save 1.8 million hectares of global agricultural land – an area roughly half the size of Germany, including hundreds of thousands of acres of South America’s biodiverse forests and savannahs – and provide a use for the 100 million tonnes of food wasted in the EU each year’. A further study confirms what the Pig Idea has been saying for years: sending food waste to animal feed scores better on 12 out of 14 environmental and health indicators than anaerobic digestion (biogas) or composting.
Overturning the swill ban would also benefit farmers. Huge feed costs are a trend across Europe: in 2015, feed made up 56 per cent of total pork production costs in the UK and as much as 65 per cent in Ireland. The impact
of these costs can be severe: only last month, 400 pigs were found starved to death in the Netherlands as it appears their bankrupt farmer had given up on them. Sadly, this is just one example of many.
Farmer organisations from across the EU are crying out about the untenable financial situation of pig producers. With overcrowding and overuse of antibiotics, pig welfare standards are affected too. In contrast, sophisticated waste-based feed producers in Japan and South Korea produce nutritious and safe pig feed from food waste at half the cost of conventional feed.
What more incentive do we need to urgently create centralised industrial treatment systems to safely convert kitchen leftovers to pig feed? These systems need to be underpinned by sound legislation guaranteeing the microbiological safety of the resulting feed, and incentives to ensure the enormous environmental benefits are realised too. Harnessing new food waste sterilisation technologies at an industrial level would not only guarantee the safety of animal feed, but it would also generate new jobs and investment opportunities.
In the meantime, together with our partners at Refresh, a consortium of partners from 12 European countries and China, the Pig Idea is also working to simplify existing guidance so that more of the currently permissible surplus food (i.e. bread that is no longer fit for humans but safe for animals) can end up in pig bellies. The Pig Idea makes sense, and it is common sense we need if we are to continue to enjoy our beautiful planet earth together with all other sentient beings, be they human or not.