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Feeding Pigs With Food Waste Could Save Agricultural Land Half The Size Of Germany

Currently, feeding food waste, alternatively named swill, to pigs is illegal in the European Union. The EU imposed the ban following the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic that ravaged European states in 2001.

Researchers now think removing the ban will conserve 1.8 million hectares of agricultural land from being used for grain and soybean-based pig feed production.

This land size is equivalent to an area roughly half the size of Germany, and includes over 250,000 hectares of vulnerable South America’s forest and savannah.

Although the authorities enforced the ban because a farmer in the UK who fed uncooked food waste to pigs triggered the disease outbreak, the study identifies East Asian countries that now affirm that recycling food waste safely is possible.

From estimates concurred from the study, legalizing pigswill will reduce the amount of land required by the EU pork industry by 21.5%, and reduce the rising pig feed cost by 50%.

Cost and land savings are not the only reasons that validate a reintroduction. The EU wastes 102.5 million tons of food every year. Recycling these food wastes is an environmentally sound solution that could lead to huge savings of global resources.

Currently, Japan recycles 35% of food waste. Pigs fed with the resulting swill are marketed as a premium product dubbed “Eco-pork.” According to the lead scientist, Erasmus zu Ermgassen, from the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, the key to maintaining a safe working model is strict regulation and close monitoring.

If there are substantial environmental and financial reasons to lift the ban, why then are there objections? According to zu Ermgassen, most of the anti-swill-feeding conjectures are based on safety concerns and sentiment that swill feeding is unnatural; which he argues are based on untrue assumptions.

Humans first domesticated pigs 10,000 years ago, continued zu Ermgassen. Since then, pigs have been fed food waste. This actually makes swill a more traditional diet for pigs that the alternate grain-based pig feed used in the EU currently.

Furthermore, the current ban does not offer a full-proof safety blanket as a recent survey points out that a quarter of UK smallholder farmers admit to feeding their pigs uncooked food waste—an illegal act.

Even then, while feeding uncooked food waste to pigs is unsafe and dangerous because of the high risk of the fed pigs being infected by diseases from raw meat, a heavily regulated use of heat-treated swill largely efface these risks.

It is important to revisit the ban seeing that demand for meat and dairy products is expected to rise by 60% within the next 35 years. Therefore, it is important to adopt systems that will have reduced environmental footprints and drive economic sustainability.

The research has been published in ScienceDirect under: Reducing the land use of EU pork production: where there’s swill, there’s a way.

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