Food waste on the table

Swill will never be considered a viable food source for UK pig production unless there’s significant regulation governing an approved manufacturing process, along with a 100% guarantee that no risks are presented to livestock health, writes Jane Jordan.

That was the verdict of pig producers, vets and allied industry representatives invited to an exclusive round-table debate organised by Pig World and sponsored by MSD Animal Health. Titled Should The EU Ban on Swill Feeding be Lifted?, the discussion offered more food for thought on an issue that has implications for all sectors of the pigmeat production and supply chain.

Environmental campaigner Tristram Stuart, the champion of the much-publicised “Pig Idea”, presented a solid case for feeding waste food to pigs. However, in spite of an eloquent argument – that offered some common objectives – the round-table view was that the risks outweighed the benefits.

It was also felt that consumers wouldn’t accept it either. Feeding swill would jeopardise confidence in a product that consistently delivered what they wanted – safe, lean and quality-assured pigmeat.

The pig farmers present said they appreciated the environmental advantages offered by feeding waste food to pigs. And they would be willing to use such products, providing those campaigning for a reversal of the swill ban were prepared to underwrite their farm businesses.

Even if an approved, secure and strictly regulated manufacturing process was set up, those round the table still felt the potential for a notifiable disease outbreak, such as classical swine fever or foot-and-mouth disease, or the risk from an emerging disease like PEDv, would be significantly increased by the reintroduction of swill feeding. One mistake or system failure could decimate the entire livestock industry.

The panel also felt the public would not be swayed by the positive environmental implications. Allowing swill to be included in ration formulations presented a possibility that pigs could be eating pigmeat within their diets. This didn’t fit into the high-welfare, fully traceable, quality-assured aspects now vital in differentiating UK pigmeat within the market.

The entire supply chain had fought hard to secure its premier status, and even if processed food waste was rendered safe and a viable feed ingredient, it could be difficult to justify using it under Red Tractor standards.

The pig industry already uses 1.23 million tonnes of co-products and permitted waste foods in ration formulations each year, and the acting general manager of the NPA, Lizzie Press, said that between 40 to 50% of the pigmeat produced in the UK had been reared using these products. The industry has an integral role in reducing UK food waste, although better access to former foodstuffs could help farmers further reduce production costs.

Mr Stuart agreed and said that restructuring food disposal mechanisms would open up the market for permitted waste, such as bread, biscuits, confectionery and cereals.

Currently, significant volumes of nutritionally valuable former foodstuffs were being sent to anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. “Green” energy tariffs and eco-driven tax incentives meant these facilities were a commercially attractive disposal option.

But, if more investment was put into developing efficient and regulated segregation systems, capable of grading waste products at source, then greater savings could be achieved in terms of cash and environmental impacts, from throughout the food chain, Mr Stuart added.

Round-table delegates supported this notion, although many had reservations about the level of retail commitment that would be given to such an idea. Adding value to food waste had the potential to drive this concept, but this would be heavily dependent on market demand.

Current disposal/recycling strategies were heavily weighted in favour of AD, and this seemed to be discouraging innovation into more sustainable options.

There will be more coverage of the debate in the April issue of Pig World.

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