In the face of a growing world population, tackling the huge amount of food that goes to waste is a vital step to securing sustainable food supplies. In the first of a series of articles on reducing waste across the pig supply chain, VOSP looks at what processors can do to make a difference.
Every year, one-third of the food produced around the world is wasted. Worth a whopping $1 trillion (£687 billion) in retail terms, that wastage doesn’t just represent a missed financial opportunity for the food sector. The lost food also amounts to wasted resources, unnecessary damage to the environment and — perhaps most significantly — a missed chance to improve global food security.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food waste is the third-largest source of carbon emissions, after the USA and China, while the 250 km3 of surface and ground water used to produce it equates to three times the volume of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. At a time when pressure on land use is becoming increasingly significant, produced but uneaten food occupies almost 1.4 billion hectares (3.5 billion acres) of land — almost 30% of the world’s agricultural land area.
The FAO states that curtailing food waste could not only ease pressure on global land use and natural resources but also reduce the amount of additional food that will need to be produced to feed the world’s 9 billion people by 2050.
Pig processors’ role
So what role can pig processors play in tackling the issue of waste in the meat sector?
Studies show that the volume of meat waste across the food chain is relatively low compared to other sectors, with about 20% of meat produced being lost. But that waste has a substantial impact in terms of the land use and carbon footprint, particularly in high-income regions.
One way processors can make a difference is through better utilization of carcasses, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a non-profit organization working on behalf of governments across the UK to tackle waste. While the group works strictly in the UK, its insights are meaningful to processors worldwide.
A study of waste in the UK fresh-meat supply chain found that about 200,000 tons of animal material is rendered unnecessarily each year because it isn’t separated properly at the processing plant.
Making better use of it — for example, by rendering pig blood to produce higher-value products or processing waste into pet food — could add as much as $160 million (£110 million) a year to the UK’s meat sector, WRAP says.
There are other issues that abattoirs can tackle to help limit waste, WRAP adds. Abattoirs with low throughput or those in rural areas can collaborate with others to find ways to optimize waste collection or exploit market opportunities.
Meanwhile, processors can look to international markets to think about how to make use of cuts that don’t appeal to home markets but could be popular elsewhere.
Meryl Ward, chairman of UK pig-industry levy body AHDB Pork, says growing meat consumption in countries like China means import demand is increasing — and much of that demand is for byproducts.
“There’s huge potential in China to sell pork products that our domestic markets don’t necessarily value,” she says. “Pigs’ faces, trotters, offal — things that we would throw away are of value to consumers there.”
Working more closely with pig farmers to develop less wasteful production processes is another area where processors can make improvements, WRAP says.
From aligning production and sales to ensure supply meets demand, to producing pigs that better meet specifications, developing dedicated supply chains and improving communication across the pork chain could help identify ways to limit waste.
Even something as simple as better organizing travel arrangements between farms and the abattoir can make the supply chain more sustainable, WRAP says.
Tackling the amount of packaging used in pig-meat processing is also a challenge for the industry to face.
WRAP says an industry-wide solution needs to be developed to ensure processors recycle contaminated vacuum packs, while they could make immediate improvements by making use of lightweight trays and recycled content.
The real step-change, the organization says, would be through greater use of skin packs and flow wraps, which reduce packaging weight, extend shelf life and improve eating quality.
Turning off the taps
Of all the areas for processors to make changes, however, water use remains top of the list.
According the Environment Agency, a government-back body dedicated to environmental improvement in England and Wales, water consumption and emissions to water are the most significant environmental impacts of meat processing.
To meet hygiene standards, facilities use huge volumes of water for cleaning and sterilization, but significant savings can be realized through sub-metering, which allows processors to track water use in different areas of their sites — a tool that WRAP says is not widely used.
Measuring the amount of water used for different processes can lead to water-reduction measures that cost little, if anything, to processing facilities. Encouraging staff to think about how they use water can also help cut usage as much as 30%, WRAP says.
Other measures can include on-site water-treatment facilities, smart facilities in toilets or improved efforts to reduce pipe leaks to cut water waste.
UK processor cuts water use 15%, saves $583K a year
Recognizing the potential to make significant improvements, Tulip — one of the UK’s largest pig processors — committed to several voluntary initiatives to reduce waste across the supply chain.
Following a 5-year drive to decrease water use as part of a WRAP campaign, the processor reduced its water use by 15% by implementing a series of simple measures.
Amending its cleaning-in-place systems now saves the processor 20,000 liters of water a day, while increasing manual debris removal and introducing reduced-flow taps and waterless urinals in staff areas have also lowered water consumption.
Pinpoint hot spots
Improving its relationships across the supply chain has also helped the processor pinpoint hot-spot areas of water use and waste, leading to cost savings of nearly $583,000 (£400,000) a year.
On top of working with producers and retailers to improve pig specifications at slaughter and reduce food waste, the processor has looked at ways to reduce processing losses.
This includes training inspection staff to identify variability in pig meat and make sure there is less inconsistency in final products. Tulip has also introduced performance trackers to monitor the performance of every production run.
A second phase of work is now focused on the root causes of yield variability, including non-uniform loins due to presses not working properly, inconsistency in production runs and out-of-spec intake leading to additional processing and downgrades.
Andy Wright, Tulip’s corporate responsibility manager, says taking a “lean approach” and looking critically at every aspect of production helped to clearly identify areas of over-consumption and waste.
“We walked the whole supply chain, identifying root causes of losses and inefficiencies, and then brainstormed solutions,” he says.
“By doing that, the whole team was able to identify and agree on opportunities to improve efficiency and productivity for all.”