Science & Environment

Let pigs eat swill, campaigners say

Image caption Thomasina Miers and Tristram Stuart are taking the campaign to Trafalgar Square

The law banning pigs from eating most types of food waste should be reformed, say campaigners.

Pigswill restrictions were introduced in 2001 after a costly foot-and-mouth-disease outbreak that was widely blamed on infected swill.

The National Pig Association says the restrictions are most unlikely to be relaxed.

But The Pig Idea group say the rules should be reviewed because they have led to an increase in food waste.

The regulations have also resulted in a big rise in the import of grain to feed the animals, it adds.

The Pig Idea campaigners are offering free pork meals to people in London’s Trafalgar Square on Thursday. The pork comes from pigs fed on certain permitted types of food waste.

The initiative being led by chef Thomasina Miers, founder of the Wahaca chain, and food-waste expert Tristram Stuart. They aim to put food waste back on the menu for Europe’s pigs.

They say: “The best use for food surpluses is to ensure that they are eaten by humans, through food redistribution charities such as FareShare and FoodCycle.

“But where food is unfit for human consumption, feeding it to pigs and chickens is the next best option – far more economically and environmentally beneficial than anaerobic digestion or composting.”

The campaigners complain that pigswill has been replaced by commercial pig feed made from grains that could feed people directly. It also contains a significant proportion of soya, which is a driver of deforestation in the Amazon.

Their statement continues: “Currently, 37% of the global harvest is fed to livestock, which in turn give back only 11% of the calories they consume in the form of meat, dairy and egg products, resulting in a net loss of over a quarter of the food we produce. This increase in demand puts pressure on global food supplies, exacerbates global food price volatility, and contributes to global hunger.”

While the campaign to change the law proceeds, the group says pig farmers should be made aware of alternative foods that escape the ban. Existing legislation allows non-meat products such as bakery, dairy, fruit, vegetable and confectionary waste to be diverted from supermarkets and factories to livestock - but only if there is a sufficiently robust system to ensure that they cannot come into contact with meat.

The pigs being served up in Trafalgar Square were mainly fed on brewer’s grain, whey, and okara (a tofu byproduct).

The groups says many countries, including Japan, South Korea, China and New Zealand, agree that when properly managed, including heating, turning food waste into livestock feed is safe and economical.

However, the National Pig Association countered: “This is a superficially attractive concept promoted by well-meaning people, but it is destined to fail because it is fundamentally unsafe, and consequently the European Union will not be persuaded to lift its zero-tolerance ban on feeding swill to pigs

“Even if it did, the idea could not work commercially, because the overwhelming majority of British pig farmers refuse to contemplate feeding swill, because of the disease risk involved and because they are opposed to cannibalistic feeding on ethical and food safety grounds.”

The Pig Idea claims support from the Campaign for Real Farming, Compassion in World Farming, Farms Not Factories, Forum for the Future, Friends of the Earth, the Health Education Trust, Real Food Festivals, the Soil Association, Sustain, the Sustainable Restaurant Association, the Sustainable Food Trust, Slow Food London, the Slow Food Youth Network, Waste Watch and WWF UK.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

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