Alastair Butler, free-range pig farmer and BPEX board member, says that while we all want to reduce food waste, feeding it to pigs is not the answer
It was good to be able to engage with supporters of the Pig Idea at their PR stunt in London's Trafalgar Square last month, and to be able to argue why their campaign is seriously flawed.
The Pig Idea is a campaign aimed at getting the EU to overturn the ban on the feeding of catering waste to pigs. Superficially, the campaign to legalise pig swill to produce more affordable, sustainable pork is admirable. In reality, it is naive and potentially dangerous. Pig producers won't need reminding that the current law banning the feeding of catering waste to pigs is a direct result of the foot and mouth disease of 2001. The disease started on a farm where pigs had been fed restaurant waste that had not been treated and, when the outbreak spread, the result was the slaughter of 6.5m animals, the loss of farmers' livelihoods and an impact to the economy estimated at £8.5b.
In the circumstances, there is no economic case to change the law, as any savings on animal feed will be negligible when compared with the potential cost of another outbreak.
On a practical note, because the substance of any swill will be variable, it is difficult to measure the nutritional content. This could lead to a negative impact on the nutrient content of the pork meat produced. Also, treatment of food waste can destroy much of its protein content, requiring farmers to supplement their herd's diet with additional protein from soybean, meaning extra cost.
We are constantly pursuing solutions to reduce food waste and ensure a sustainable future, including investing in research that may reveal other alternatives to grain and soybean-based feeds. It may seem like a simple solution, but the whole industry must understand the logic in our view, take a step back and question the feasibility of feeding swill to pigs.