New research shows how this can be done safely

Of the 88 million tonnes of food that currently leave the food supply chain as waste, a minimum of 14 million tonnes of surplus food could become available for non-ruminant feed if we were to change legislation to allow the feeding of such surplus once it has been treated to ensure safety.

REFRESH identifies the safety, nutritional, environmental and economic aspects of potential EU legislative change that would allow omnivorous non-ruminant livestock to be fed with surplus food. In consultation with top veterinarians, microbiologists and pig nutritionists, it is concluded that such surplus-based feed should be sourced solely from specialist licenced processing facilities.

Environmental and economic benefits

Using half of the surplus food from the EU retail, manufacturing and catering sectors to replace pigfeed could lead to an estimated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 5.8 million tons of CO2 eq. per year. This is equal to the emissions from nearly three million UK passenger cars driven for one year.

The EU imports over 5 million tonnes of soya annually from Brazil (EC Statistics, 2018) where soya farming drives deforestation. Feeding meat-containing surplus to pigs could replace 800 thousand tonnes of soya currently used in pigfeed in the EU.

A life cycle costing assessment by REFRESH shows that when surplus food is generated in locations relatively close to pig farms, using surplus food in pigfeed can result in economic savings. Furthermore, a tecno-economic scaling evaluation by REFRESH suggests that small to medium-sized treatment plants could be commercially viable. The REFRESH report also addresses questions around the nutritional quality of feed made from surplus food.

Safety and nutrition

The 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak, which led to the ban on feeding surplus food to livestock, started with the illegal feeding of untreated food waste to pigs in the UK. With this experience and current threats such as African Swine Fever in mind, REFRESH research demonstrates that heat treatment, acidification and biosecurity processes can achieve adequate pathogen inactivation and deliver safe feed for pigs.

In the European context, treatment and biosecurity requirements should be more rigorous than those currently applied in by the Japanese ecofeed sector who are the global pioneers of a modern surplus food to feed industry. Central to the safety premise of our proposal is that surplus food can only be treated in specialist licenced treatment plants which comply with the same stringent biosecurity measures currently required of the rendering industry. With regard to the potential presence of traces of pork in surplus food, an EU scientific opinion issued prior to the introduction of the intraspecies recycling ban states that ”no scientific evidence exists to demonstrate the natural occurrence of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (“TSE”) in farmed pigs, poultry and fish, which may create a basis for an intra-species progression of a TSE infection due to intra-species recycling” (EC Scientific Steering Committee 1999). A new opinion by the European Food Safety Authority (2007) confirms that there is no natural occurrence of TSE in pigs. There is no intraspecies recycling ban for non-ruminants in the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Japan, where only ruminant livestock is subject to TSE legislation.