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Waste not, want not

There has been no let up in the pressure from NGOs calling for a transformation of the modern food industry, an end to ‘factory farming’ and a drastic reduction in consumption of meat and dairy products. The pig industry, however, is keen to highlight that production efficiency is vital to reducing the environmental impact of modern farming. However, the elimination of ‘food waste’, throughout the production and consumption chain, now seems to be gaining more focus in public debate, as a key part of the solution in meeting future challenges of feeding a rapidly growing world population.

In January, Friends of the Earth published a 'Meat Atlas' calling for a “radical transformation” of livestock production on a global basis. This was swiftly followed by the much heralded launch of a book entitled ‘Farmageddon - the true cost of cheap meat’.

One of its authors was Philip Lymbery, the CEO of Compassion in World Farming and the book contained many familiar themes, condemning many aspects of modern intensive farming systems, under the heading of ‘factory farming’. Needless to say the publication of Farmageddon resulted in a fair amount of comment in predictable quarters.

The Chairman of the National Farmers Union, Peter Kendall, summarised the main concerns of modern farming interests in a letter to the Daily Mail, that ‘big’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’ and that all agriculture must be allowed to make the necessary investments in new technologies in order to meet the challenges of feeding a rapidly growing and more affluent world population.

The Danish farming industry is of a similar view that the conditions for farming to make these much needed investments must be met and also is keen to highlight that more efficient production of food invariably secures a crucial reduction in its environmental impact. Danish pig farmers point out that today’s pork chop is produced with less than half the environmental impact of that produced in 1985.

BPEX recently published a report 'Positive Progress' highlighting that the British pig industry had succeeded in reducing its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 26% in the four years from 2008 to 2012 – already having exceeded its 2020 target. These gains had been achieved through improved feed efficiency, larger litter sizes, reduction in use of soya in feed and greater use of food industry co-products.

There has been much debate in recent months regarding the adoption of more traditional methods of feeding pigs recycled kitchen wastes.
A new campaign 'The Pig Idea' was launched by food writer, Tristram Stuart, calling for action to reintroduce the feeding pigs with the edible food wastes, which are currently sent to landfill sites.

The practice of swill feeding was made illegal in the UK and subsequently the EU as whole, after the outbreaks of Classical Swine Fever and Foot & Mouth disease in the UK, where it was suspected that waste food may have been their cause.

The NPA, while supporting the principle of reducing food waste, have expressed concerns about the reintroduction of recycled food for pigs, highlighting this potential disease risk as well as the fact that the pig industry is already a major user of food industry by-products.

A body called WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) was established by the government in 2000 to promote measures for recycling and the reduction in overall levels of waste.

Their recent report  'Household food and drink waste in UK 2012' suggested that nearly twelve million tonnes of food was wasted in the UK and much of that was ‘avoidable’ or ‘possibly avoidable’. However, levels of ‘avoidable waste’ have declined by 21% since 2007.

At a recent WRAP conference 'Fresher for longer', it was highlighted that “approximately 60% of household food waste arises from products not used in time, mainly perishable or short-life products, with a value of around £6.7 billion”.

On a global scale, the authors of Farmageddon estimate that 56% of the world’s ‘edible crop harvest’ is wasted – but, in their calculations,26% is ‘conversion loss’ due the diversion of crops  to feed livestock for meat!