The Pig Idea: Let them eat waste

Launched on June 5 2013


The campaign calls for waste food to go back on the menu for pigs

The Pig Idea, launched today on World Environment Day, calls for change to the way we feed our pigs. Initiated by chef Thomasina Miers and food waste expert from Feeding the 5000, Tristram Stuart, the campaign aims to put food waste back on the menu for British pigs, and lobby to change European law in the long term, so that we can return to the traditional practice of feeding our surplus waste food to pigs.

The team at The Pig Idea will today start the process of rearing eight pigs at Stepney City Farm, on a healthy menu of food waste collected from around London. From spent brewer’s grains, whey, unsold vegetables and bread, the food that would otherwise have been wasted will be collected and fed to the pigs.

High profile Hambassadors have signed up in support of the campaign – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Emma Freud, Fergus Henderson, Sara Cox, Giorgio Locatelli, John Torode and Rosie Boycott. The Pig Idea campaign will culminate in this year’s most exciting food event in London’s Trafalgar Square in November.

Some of the UK’s best known chefs will gather in Trafalgar Square to offer up to thousands of members of the public their favourite pork dishes, using the pork reared by The Pig Idea team. Following the theme of Feeding the 5000’s free celebratory campaign feasts, we will be inviting the general public to come dine with us on an array of delicious food that would have otherwise gone to waste. The feast will highlight the current global food waste scandal, but will illustrate that the solutions are practical, economical and delicious.

The Pig Idea campaign wants to make sure that good food is never wasted. It aims to:

  1. Restore public confidence in the safe, efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly practice of feeding surplus food to pigs.
  2. Encourage more use of already legally permissible food waste as pig feed – for example, unsold bread, dairy, fruit and vegetables that are unfit for human consumption – by raising awareness and understanding of this option amongst supermarkets, food businesses, Animal Health officials and pig farmers.
  3. Start the long process of changing European law to allow food waste to be diverted for use as pig feed; and to introduce a robust legal framework for its safe processing and use to prevent animal diseases.

Pigs are now being fed crops that people could otherwise eat, such as wheat, soy and maize. This increase in demand puts pressure on global food supplies, exacerbates global food price volatility, and contributes to global hunger.

Shocking facts on food waste

  • Feeding food waste to pigs would significantly reduce the need for Europe to import 40m tonnes of soya grown on rainforests every year from Latin America to feed livestock.
  • The United Nations estimates that feeding food waste to livestock could liberate enough grain to feed an extra 3 billion people.

Benefits of Feeding Food Waste to Pigs

The ambition and likely benefits of feeding waste food to pigs will:

  • Avoid the economic and environmental costs of disposing of food waste
  • Protect landscapes rich in biodiversity, such as the precious Amazon rainforest, that are under pressure to grow crops to feed pigs;
  • Lower feed costs, and so help to protect beleaguered pig  farmers;
  • Create jobs and revenue in the new eco-feed industry that will be needed to collect, treat and distribute food waste so that it can be fed to pigs.
  • Liberate essential food supplies for people rather than pigs, particularly cereal crops, so that these can be eaten by people instead of being fed to pigs;

Tristram Stuart, Founder of Feeding the 5000, author and campaigner on food waste.

Humans have been recycling food waste by feeding it to pigs for thousands of years. Reviving this tradition will help to protect forests that are being chopped down to grow the millions of tonnes of soya we import from South America every year to feed our livestock,”

Thomasina Miers, Chef at Wahaca, award winning sustainable restaurant.

“Cutting down rainforest in the Amazon to grow pig feed for pigs in Europe makes no sense.  Let’s save all our delicious food waste and feed it to the pigs.  Not only will we be saving the rainforest (and slowing down climate change) but we’ll be bringing down the cost of pig feed and pork.  Let them eat waste!”

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Chef, Author and Campaigner

“Pigs can be a highly effective recycling system, with the potential to turn a massive problem of food waste into a delicious solution. It’s mad not to.” 

Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming:

“Food waste is one of the biggest scandals of our time. It is not only a humanitarian and environmental issue, but an animal welfare issue too. Sending vast quantities of food to landfill means that huge numbers of animals have effectively endured the misery of factory farming for nothing. Recycling properly treated food waste through pigs kept in decent conditions is a common sense way of feeding both pigs and people.”


The Pig Idea Campaign is calling for:

  1. Increasing the proportion of legally permissible waste food redirected to animal feed
  2. Starting the long process of changing European law to allow the feeding of properly sterilised food waste including catering waste to pigs.
  3. Safe systems to be implemented across Europe that collect food waste from shops, restaurants, institutional caterers and manufacturers
  4. The food waste to be properly and safely treated (monitored by enforcement agencies)
  5. Pig farms to be adapted to properly handle and distribute this feed to pigs, with farmers particularly encouraged and supported to feed food waste to pigs in higher welfare systems
  6. A market to be established for sustainably produced pork promoted to consumers


For more information, interviews, photographs or to attend launch photocall, please contact: – 07976 556164 (Official launch 6th June) | #thepigidea

Notes to Editors

Thomasina Miers was winner of BBC 2’s MasterChef in 2005. She is a cook and food writer whose work has ranged from cheese-making and running market stalls in Ireland, cheffing with Skye Gyngell at Petersham Nurseries to co-founding the restaurant group Wahaca, winner of numerous awards from OFM’s cheap eats to winner of the SRA’s sustainable restaurant group two years running.   Tommi has written for the Financial Times, the Guardian and had a regular column in the Times on Saturday from 2006-2009. She has written and co-edited 5 cookery books (Soup Kitchen; Cook; Wild Gourmets; Mexican Food Made Simple and the Wahaca book) and presented various cookery TV programmes, including A Cook’s Tour of Spain (Channel 4) and Mexican Food Made Simple (Channel 5).  She shops at her local market in keeping with her love of simple, seasonal cooking.

Tristram Stuart is the winner of the international environmental award, The Sophie Prize 2011, for his fight against food waste. After the publication of his international prize-winning book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal (Penguin, 2009) Tristram founded Feeding the 5000 (, the flagship event of a global food waste campaign where 5000 members of the public are given a free lunch using only ingredients that otherwise would have been wasted. Held twice in Trafalgar Square (2009 and 2011), the Feeding the 5000 team are now working in partnership with the EU FUSIONS and the UN Environment Program with replica campaigns being launched around the world from New York to Sydney.

Information on Sponsors and Supporters

The Pig Idea is being sponsored by:

D&D London                                                      

Soho House


London Food Board

The website and graphics of The Pig Idea have been sponsored in kind through the design work of BuroCreative

Supporting organizations include:

Compassion In World Farming

Soil Association

Friends of the Earth


Sustainable Restaurant Association

Campaign For Real Farming

Farms Not Factories                                                    

Helen Brownings Organics

Background on Pigs and Waste Food

Pigs were originally domesticated by people because they are so good at eating our leftovers – clearing up our waste, while converting it into valuable food (e.g. pork and bacon) and manure to keep our soil fertile. Right up to the end of the 1990s, a ‘pig bin’ was a familiar sight in schools and canteens – particularly in rural areas – collecting leftover food to feed to pigs. This was welcomed by farmers as a way to keep down their costs, and caterers who avoided the costs of disposing of the food waste – as well as by pigs as the source of a delicious meal!

The pig’s status as food waste recycler and consumer of ‘swill’ continued on a large and small scale, until 2001, when the practice came to a sudden end in Britain.  In that year, feeding catering waste to pigs was banned by the British government in response to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). It was tentatively concluded that the FMD outbreak originated on a farm that was illegally feeding its pigs unprocessed restaurant waste. The government justified the ban because it considered that there was a risk of infected meat entering the food chain. It was originally intended to be a temporary measure, but a government-sponsored enquiry into the government’s handling of the disease outbreak (the Anderson Enquiry) recommended that the ban be continued. In 2002 it was extended across the whole of the European Union.

As a result of the ban, farmers have had to find alternative sources of pig feed. This has included some waste from food manufacturing, such as spent hops from breweries, whey from dairies and surplus bread from bakeries. However, this does not happen as much as it could.

While there have been some positive recent developments in this area, such as one major supermarket diverting all its bread waste for animal feed, most pigs today are fed on feed made primarily from ‘virgin’ materials – crops like soya, maize and wheat. A return to the traditional practice of feeding waste food to pigs would have a number of major social, environmental and economic benefits.

Information on Benefits on Feeding Pigs Food Waste

Helping cash-strapped pig farmers

The number of pigs in the UK decreased from 8.1 million in 1998 to 4.8 million in 2007; we are still eating just as much pork, but now import around 60% of it, primarily from intensive farms in Denmark and the Netherlands.  Feeding surplus food to pigs can be a much cheaper option, as well as being better for the environment.

Avoiding rotting food in scarce landfill sites

We are turning what could be a valuable natural resource – leftover food – into a huge environmental problem, by dumping it in landfill sites and leaving it to rot. Rotting food produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Keeping waste food out of landfill would help to reduce greenhouse gases and increase recycling. Returning to the age-old practice of using food waste to feed livestock is an achievable, cost-effective solution to these problems.

Saving rainforests

Land is being cleared – including precious Amazonian rainforest – to grow cereals and other crops to feed farm animals, particularly pigs and chickens. Much of Europe’s livestock feed is made of soy, grown in South America where rainforest is being cut down at an alarming rate. Almost all (97 per cent) of global soy production is used for animal feed, and European imports of soymeal increased by almost 3 million tonnes in the two years immediately following the pigswill ban.

Creating jobs and revenue

Using food waste as livestock feed has the potential to create revenue and jobs. In countries such as Japan and South Korea, businesses have been established to collect and process food waste and sell it on to farmers (see below). Before the ban, some British pig farmers were paid to take food waste away from businesses.

Farmer John Rigby, for example, was paid £7 per tonne of food waste, which he would blend with other ingredients and sell on to other pig farmers for up to £160 per tonne, yielding a peak annual profit of £750,000. All of this came to an end in 2001. Instead, food businesses now pay from £60 to over £100 per tonne to dispose of their food waste – costing the food industry across Europe millions of pounds a year.

What other countries do

Many countries, including Japan, South Korea, China and New Zealand, as well as some US states, agree that when properly managed, recycling food waste into livestock feed is safe, and makes both environmental and economic sense. Pig farmers from those regions are able to save over fifty percent of their feed costs, and thus have a significant competitive advantage over European pig farmers.

When catering waste is properly heat-treated (i.e. cooked), pathogens such as Foot and Mouth and Classical Swine Fever that might otherwise cause disease are killed, making it safe to feed to pigs. Policy-makers in Japan concluded that to sterilise surplus food, while preserving maximum nutrients, it should be heated at 70 degrees centigrade for 30 minutes, or 80 degrees centigrade for three minutes.

Even using energy to treat the leftover food, it is still by far the most efficient way both to feed pigs and to dispose of the food waste. More research is needed, but according to figures published in Tristram Stuart’s book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal (Penguin, 2009) using leftover food for pig feed can save twenty times more greenhouse gas emissions than sending it to anaerobic digestion, the next best option.

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