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.
The United Nations estimates that if farmers around the world fed their livestock on the food that we currently waste and on agricultural by-products, enough grain would be liberated to feed an extra three billion people.
On 22 November 2017 an expert seminar was held to review surplus food treatment and risk in relation to feeding treated surplus food to pigs and chickens. The panel was made up of top veterinary epidemiologists, microbiologists and pig nutritionists from the Universities of Leeds, Cambridge and Wageningen, the UK Animal and Plant Health Agency and a member of the European Food Standards Agency FEEDAP committee.
The 9000 years old practice of feeding surplus food to pigs was banned in the EU following the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth which was started by a UK farmer illegally feeding untreated food waste to pigs. Catering and retail food surplus is fed to pigs in Japan and the United States after treatment to ensure its safety. 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.
The Japanese system was presented to the panel; surplus food is treated and turned into feed at central processing facilities which are carefully managed. This produces feed at 40-60% of the cost of conventional feed. The pork is then sold as eco-pork. On an EU level feeding pigs on treated surplus food at similar rates to Japan could reduce the land used to grow feed crops for European pigs by over 20%
The hazards and risk factors, such as animal pathogens and cross-contamination, were outlined and discussed. On balance, the panel concluded that from a technical point of view feeding surplus food to pigs is viable provided certain safety measures are enforced; namely a combination of heat treatment and acidification (fermentation or adding lactic acid for example). These safety measures need to be complimented with a system design to prevent cross-contamination using biosecurity measures and proven logistical and HACCP approaches (zoning, one directional process flows, dedicated sealed storage etc). A crucial next step identified by the panel is investigating the business case of this practice to ensure it is economically feasible for the EU context.
This expert report is an important step towards creating a low-input food system that nourishes the planet instead of depleting it.
On 30. October in Brussel, REFRESH is organising the Policy Panel: How can Europe benefit from the economic and environmental benefits of feeding pigs treated surplus food while regulating this practice to prevent disease? Find more information and a registration link on our events page.