Swill-feeding should be restored for pigs
That House of Commons International Development Committee report, which slammed bio-fuels and urged us all to eat less meat, also had some powerful things to say about food waste.
Pointing out that as much as 30% of food is wasted, it called upon the Government to "redouble its efforts to reduce the level of food waste in the UK" and referred specifically to the recommendations of last year's Foresight Report, which advocated the "productive recycling of unwanted food".
What it didn't do, sadly, was to cut through the bureaucratic jargon and recommend the action which would do the most to address the scandal of waste food – lift the blanket ban on feeding swill to pigs.
Swill-feeding was banned in the UK in 2001, in the wake of the Foot and Mouth Disease disaster, which originated on Bobby Waugh's swill-fed pig unit at Heddon-on-the-Wall. The rest of the EU followed suit in 2002. Since then, while it has remained legal to feed pigs with leftover bread and a limited range of other, non-meat food products, the millions of tonnes of catering waste produced each year has gone either to landfill, anaerobic digestion, or the incinerator.
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To fill the gap left by the ban, soya imports to the EU have increased by over a million tonnes a year, and pig feed prices have gone through the roof. The ban on swill hasn't been the only cause of that, by any means, but it has been a significant factor.
Pig farmers' organisations have mostly been content to take the ban on the chin, not wishing to be accused of exposing the nation to the risk of another outbreak of FMD and uncertain of the likely response from consumers. The ban has also suited what might be called "corporate agriculture" very well, providing as it has done an even larger guaranteed market for adding value to grain.
So a campaign to persuade the public of the benefits of feeding catering waste to pigs and get the EU ban lifted is being led, not by farmers, but by chefs and environmentalists. It is called Pig Idea – www.thepigidea.org – and it is being fronted by the celebrity chef Thomasina Miers and a recycling specialist called Tristram Stuart, with a veritable galaxy of culinary stars listed among its supporters. They plan to hold a Pig Idea Feast in Trafalgar Square in November to raise the profile of the campaign.
More power to their elbow, say I. The ban on swill was an understandable knee-jerk reaction from a Government under pressure, but the time for it to be revisited is long overdue. It wasn't swill feeding per se which was to blame for FMD, it was the fact that Bobby Waugh wasn't boiling his swill properly and the MAFF inspector who could have closed him down in the months before the outbreak failed to do so. A repeat of that sort of thing could easily be avoided if swill was treated in closely monitored, centralised processing plants. I can't say that I am all that optimistic. The official prejudice against swill-feeding is still strong – witness the disgraceful failure to compensate the 61 swill-feeders whose businesses were closed down overnight by the ban – and the National Pig Association is at best lukewarm. But if swill-feeding is good enough for the Koreans and the Japanese, where swill-fed pigmeat is marketed at a premium as "eco-pork", in recognition of the waste and greenhouse gas emissions it avoids, it ought to be good enough for us Europeans.
Resuming swill-feeding, subject of course to safeguards, would mean less waste, lower emissions, cheaper pig feed and better-tasting pork. What's not to like?
Anthony Gibson is a freelance writer and may be contacted at email@example.com