Your Feed In­for­mant

Agriculture - - Contents - >BY JAIME ABELLA SI­SON, DVM, FPCVFP

A NEW STUDY shows that if the Euro­pean Union lifted the pigswill ban im­posed fol­low­ing 2001’s footand-mouth dis­ease epi­demic, and har­nessed tech­nolo­gies de­vel­oped in East Asian coun­tries for ‘heat-treat­ing’ our food waste to safely turn it into pig feed, around 1.8 mil­lion hectares of land could be saved from be­ing stripped for grain and soy­bean-based pig feed pro­duc­tion—in­clud­ing over a quar­ter of a mil­lion hectares of Brazil­ian for­est and sa­van­nah. While swill-feed­ing was banned across the EU in 2002 fol­low­ing the FMD out­break—trig­gered by a UK farmer il­le­gally feed­ing un­cooked food waste to pigs—other coun­tries, such as Ja­pan, re­sponded by cre­at­ing a highly reg­u­lated sys­tem for safely re­cy­cling heat-treated food waste as an­i­mal feed.

Re­searchers de­scribe the EU ban as a ‘knee-jerk re­ac­tion’ that no longer makes sense when East Asian coun­tries have demon­strated that food waste can be safely re­cy­cled. The mod­els in the lat­est study show that pigswill rein­tro­duc­tion would not only de­crease the amount of land the EU pork in­dus­try re­quires by 21.5%, but also cut in half the ever-in­creas­ing feed costs faced by Euro­pean farm­ers.

Re­searchers de­scribe swill as a feed which is com­monly used in other parts of the world, one that could save a huge amount of global re­sources, and pro­vide an en­vi­ron­men­tally sound re­cy­cling so­lu­tion to the es­ti­mated 102.5 mil­lion tons of food wasted in the EU each year. Over 35% of food waste is now re­cy­cled into an­i­mal feed, where swill-fed ‘Eco-pork’ is mar­keted as a pre­mium prod­uct.

“Fol­low­ing the foot-and-mouth dis­ease out­break, dif­fer­ent coun­tries looked at the same sit­u­a­tion, the same ev­i­dence, and came to op­po­site con­clu­sions for pol­icy,” said Dr. Eras­mus K.H.J. zu Er­m­gassen from the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge’s Depart­ment of Zo­ol­ogy, who led the study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Food Pol­icy (2016). “In many coun­tries in East Asia we have a work­ing model for the safe use of food waste as pig feed. It is a highly reg­u­lated and closely mon­i­tored sys­tem that re­cy­cles food waste and pro­duces low-cost pig feed with a low en­vi­ron­ment im­pact.”

The re­searchers ex­am­ined data about the cur­rent land use of EU pork, the avail­abil­ity of food waste in the EU, and the qual­ity and quan­tity of pork pro­duced in feed tri­als that com­pared pigswill to grain-based di­ets, to pro­duce a model of how much land could be saved if the pigswill ban was lifted.

Some 21.5 mil­lion tons of pork, around 34 kilo­grams (kg) of pork per per­son, are pro­duced in the EU each year. Live­stock pro­duc­tion oc­cu­pies ap­prox­i­mately 75% of agri­cul­tural land world­wide, with most of this used to pro­duce an­i­mal feed. For EU pork, much of the en­vi­ron­men­tal bur­den stems from the farm­ing of soy­bean meal, which takes up in ex­cess of 1.2 mil­lion

hectares of land across South Amer­ica.

As swill is much cheaper than grain and soy­bean­based pig feed, rein­tro­duc­ing swill feed­ing could re­duce costs faced by EU pig farm­ers by 50%, say the re­searchers.

Most ob­jec­tions to swill feed­ing in the EU stems from con­cerns about safety, and the sen­ti­ment that feed­ing hu­man food waste to pigs is un­nat­u­ral. But zu Er­m­gassen ar­gues that those con­cerns are largely based on in­cor­rect as­sump­tions.

“Pigs are om­niv­o­rous an­i­mals; in the wild they would eat any­thing they could for­age for, from veg­etable mat­ter to other an­i­mal car­casses, and they have been fed food waste since they were do­mes­ti­cated by hu­mans 10,000 years ago. Swill ac­tu­ally pro­vides a more tra­di­tional diet for pigs than the grain the grain-based feed cur­rently used in mod­ern EU sys­tems,” said zu Er­m­gassen.

“A re­cent sur­vey found that 25% of small­holder farm­ers in the UK ad­mit to il­le­gally feed­ing un­cooked food waste to their pigs, so the fact is that the cur­rent ban is not par­tic­u­larly safe from a dis­ease­out­break per­spec­tive. Feed­ing un­cooked food waste is dan­ger­ous be­cause pigs can catch dis­eases from raw meat, but a sys­tem sup­port­ing the reg­u­lated use of heat-treated swill does not have the same risks,” he said.

With the de­mand for meat and dairy prod­ucts fore­cast to in­crease 60% by 2050, re­duc­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print of cur­rent sys­tems of meat pro­duc­tion will be­come in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal.

zu Er­m­gassen points out that eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cern is driv­ing a re­assess­ment of EU an­i­mal feed bans that were put in place in the 2000s, as well as at­tempts to re­cy­cle food waste more ef­fec­tively. The EU is cur­rently look­ing into re­peal­ing bans on us­ing waste pig and poul­try prod­ucts as fish feed and rein­tro­duc­ing in­sects as pig and poul­try feed.

“The rein­tro­duc­tion of swill feed­ing in the EU would re­quire back­ing from pig pro­duc­ers, the pub­lic, and pol­icy mak­ers, but it has sub­stan­tial po­ten­tial to im­prove the en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity of EU pork pro­duc­tion. It is time to re­assess whether the EU’s blan­ket ban on the use of food waste as feed is the right thing for the pig in­dus­try,” he said. (Source: http://www.cam.ac.uk/re­search/news/feed­ing-food­waste-to-pigs-could-save-vast-swathes-of-threat­ened-fore­stand-sa­van­nah)

(Photo cour­tesy of Step­ney City Farm)

Pigs eat­ing swill.

Eras­mus K.H.J. zu Er­m­gassen, MRCVS Cam­bridge Univer­sity.

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