Pigswill, a welcome return?


A new study suggests that feeding pigs on our food waste (‘swill’) could spare 1.8 million hectares of global agricultural land, provide a use for the 100 million tonnes of food wasted in the EU each year, and halve ever-increasing feed costs. Unfortunately, persisting safety concerns and consumer attitudes are halting this potential win-win-win situation.

Pigs have been fed on food waste since they were domesticated by humans approximately 10,000 years ago. However, in 2002 following the foot-and-mouth outbreak, the EU placed a ban on pigswill. This was because the outbreak was believed to have been triggered by a UK farmer illegally giving uncooked food waste to pigs. Up until the ban, waste was heat-treated then fed to pigs. The boiler in the photograph above was used to boil pigswill during WWII, when food was scarce (it can be seen at the Cambridge Museum of Technology where our Pop-up Farmers’ Market is being held on Sunday 23rd October).

While EU farmers switched to grain and soybean-based animal feed, elsewhere in the world greater effort has been put into developing a
highly regulated system for recycling food waste. 603233327624480f70ebac0649cf3765In Japan, over 35% of food waste is now recycled into animal feed and swill-fed ‘eco-pork’ is sold at a premium price. This is a much more sustainable feed system, given that growing grain and soybean to feed livestock is causing widespread deforestation. Models used in the study demonstrate that reintroducing pigswill would decrease the amount of land the EU pork industry requires by 21.5%.

Given the global environmental and food waste crises, we should perhaps reconsider traditional methods of recycling our food waste. Many UK pig farmers, however, feel that they cannot afford to take the risk, in case the public object and their business takes a hit.

A recent survey, though, worryingly found that 25% of UK smallholder farmers admitted to illegally feeding uncooked food waste to their pigs. A highly regulated system of heat-treating swill would therefore actually reduce the risk of pigs catching diseases from raw meat.

An alternative, contemporary idea is to feed pigs on insects. PROteINSECT is a three-year EU initiative exploring the safety and feasibility of using insects as a sustainable protein source in feed for industrial farming. The project ends this year and it will be interesting to find out the results.

To support lifting the ban on feeding food waste to pigs, you can add your name to The Pig Idea campaign.