Several Asian countries are turning food waste into pig feed – and doing so without the risks of disease perceived in other parts of the world.
Food that is produced and not consumed represents a waste of valuable resources, threatens food security and may have adverse impacts on environmental sustainability as the uneaten items are left to rot or sent to landfill.
The domestication of the pig can be traced back to its ability to thrive on food not eaten by humans, also known as swill. This idea is being actively promoted — using 21st century systems — in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. An article in All About Feed takes a closer look at modern, East Asian systems of food-waste recycling, and considers the economic and environmental case for reintroducing the use of swill in the EU. In 2001, swill use in the EU was banned following a UK outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in a herd of pigs that had been fed improperly treated food waste.
40% of food waste used for feed
In the same year that the EU banned the feeding of swill, the Japanese government launched an initiative to promote the regulated use of food waste in animal feed following heat treatment to kill viruses such as those that cause FMD and classical swine fever (hog cholera).
Today, Japan and South Korea recycle around 40% of their food waste as feed. The sector is tightly regulated, and treatment of food waste can only be carried out by registered ‘Ecofeed’ manufacturers. There have been no outbreaks of disease linked to swill feeding since the system was introduced.
Variability in the food waste leads to a slight reduction in growth rate, but the pork is high quality and feeding costs are much reduced compared with standard grain-based feeds. As a result, the use of swill feeding has grown in popularity in both countries.
The switch to swill benefits not only farmers’ bottom line but also the environment. A research team at Cambridge University recently estimated the environmental benefits of introducing food-waste feeding systems, like those used in Asia, in the EU.
Their study revealed that a total of 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) of farmland would be spared, including more than a quarter of a million hectares (618 million acres) of Brazilian soybean production. What’s more, it would use an estimated 100 million metric tons of food waste in the EU annually.
Farm profits in Japan receive a boost not only from reduced feeding costs but also because the pork from waste-fed pigs is seen as deserving a premium because of its high quality and low environmental impact.