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Europe's Pigs Could Be the Answer to Its Food Waste Problem

A new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge shows that if the EU would lift its pigswill ban and use new technologies to heat treat food waste for use as pig food, almost 2 million hectares of land would be saved.

by Alex Swerdloff
Dec 14 2015, 9:00pm

Photo via USDA on Flickr

Europe—Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and beyond—seems to love its pork, with the notable exception of the many Europeans who do not eat it for religious or cultural reasons. And the EU goes to great lengths to make sure that its pigs are well-fed.

Unfortunately, ever since 2001's foot-and-mouth disease epidemic in the UK, pigs that are fed to Europeans have had a pretty limited diet, much to the detriment of both consumers and farmers. After that disastrous disease spread throughout Europe, a ban on feeding food waste to pigs was enacted in Europe. Thanks to this pigswill ban, European pigs have been living pretty much solely on a grain and soybean diet. This is probably pretty boring if you're a pig, but the much larger problem is that feeding pigs grain and soy totally fucking sucks for the environment. Growing the feed for the pigs of Europe takes up tons of space—in Europe itself and around the world.

As Science Daily reports, a new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge shows that if the EU would lift its pigswill ban and use new technologies to heat treat food waste for use as pig food, almost 2 million hectares of land would be saved. That number includes over a quarter of a million hectares that happen to be in Brazil. The study was published this week in the journal Food Policy.

Photo via Flickr user Nick Saltmarsh

Photo via Flickr user Nick Saltmarsh

The 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was evidently triggered by a UK farmer illegally feeding uncooked food waste to pigs. But new technologies have recently been developed in East Asian countries that allow for heat-treating food waste to safely turn it into pig feed.

The researchers say the EU ban was a knee-jerk reaction that no longer makes sense. In the United States, we do feed food waste to our swine, but we regulate how it is done pretty heavily. East Asian countries also recycle their food waste for piggy pleasure.

The study shows that if pigswill were reintroduced as feed, the amount of land used for EU pork production would decrease by 21.5 percent. What's more, the cost of feeding pigs would be cut in half.

It is estimated that in the countries that belong to the European Union, 102.5 million tons of food is wasted each year. Compare this to Japan, where over 35 percent of food waste is now recycled into animal feed. In fact, in that country, swill-fed "Eco-pork" is marketed as a premium product.

READ: How I Turn Food Waste into Michelin-Starred Meals

Erasmus zu Ermgassen from Cambridge's Department of Zoology, who led the study, said, "Following the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, different countries looked at the same situation, the same evidence, and came to opposite conclusions for policy. In many countries in East Asia, we have a working model for the safe use of food waste as pig feed. It is a highly regulated and closely monitored system that recycles food waste and produces low-cost pig feed with a low environmental impact."

Some people argue that feeding pigs food waste is unnatural, but zu Ermgassen disagrees: "Pigs are omnivorous animals; in the wild they would eat anything they could forage for, from vegetable matter to other animal carcasses, and they have been fed food waste since they were domesticated by humans 10,000 years ago."

So, pigs of Europe: things may be looking up for you. If the researchers have their way, you guys may be indulging in leftovers. That's gotta taste better than a diet of straight up soy and grain.