Support amongst UK pig farmers and agricultural stakeholders for the use of food losses in animal feed

This research, featuring the results of a survey of 82 pig farmers and 81 other stakeholders  at the British Pig & Poultry Fair on the 10-11 May 2016, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire was published on April 24 2018 in PLOS/One.

Background to the Study including the reasons for the current ban

Food losses, i.e. foods which were intended for human consumption, but which ultimately are not directly eaten by people, have long been used as an animal feed–they have, for example, been fed to pigs since the very domestication of wild pigs, around 10,000 years ago. While food losses continue to be included in animal feed in many parts of the world, the use of food losses in animal feed was all but banned in the European Union (EU) in 2002, after the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, which is thought to have been started by a farmer illegally feeding uncooked food waste to pigs in the UK.

Current EU legislation permits the inclusion of only a small subset of food losses in animal feed. For example, all food losses containing animal by-products (materials of animal origin that people do not consume e.g. tendons, processed animal proteins) are banned, except for those containing honey, eggs, pig or poultry gelatine, milk products, rendered fats, and collagen, where there is no risk of contamination with other sources of animal by-products [4]. These legal food losses are known as former foodstuffs. The legislation specifically bans catering wastes (i.e. food that has been through a home kitchen or restaurant, making up the 57% of food losses in the EU [5]) and feeds where there is the potential for intra-species recycling–i.e. pigs eating pork products, or chickens eating poultry products.

These regulations deliver a safe food system to millions of Europeans, though they are not without their trade-offs. The current legislation limits the potential for nutrient recycling and a circular economy–food losses that are not used as feed are instead disposed of in less efficient ways, lower down the food waste hierarchy. Recent studies have shown that the relegalisation of food losses in animal feed could cut feed costs for pig producers, reduce the land use of EU pork production by 22% (1.8 Mha), and reduce a host of other environmental pressures. The ban on animal by-products in feed also treats all livestock in Europe as being essentially vegetarian, though, of course, pigs and poultry are omnivorous.

In light of these trade-offs and the existence of regulated systems for incorporating food losses in feed in other countries, there have therefore been intermittent calls to relegalise the use of food losses in feed [2,8–10]. Japan and South Korea, for example, operate systems for safely recycling food losses as animal feed, based on the heat-treatment of food losses (heat-treated food losses are colloquially known as “swill”, though they are marketed as “Ecofeed” in Japan). Heat-treatment disactivates pathogens (such as foot-and-mouth) in the food, renders it safe for use as animal feed, and facilitates these countries recycling ca. 40% of their food losses as animal feed, compared with the 3–6% achieved in the EU.

Still, the debate continues to be polarised, with some arguing that the use of swill is unsafe or unnatural–the UK retailer The Co-operative, for example, banned the use of swill in 1995 —while others argue that the ban was an exaggerated response to a manageable risk. Little work has been done, however, to determine the attitudes of the people most affected by the ban on the use of food losses as feed–namely, pig farmers and workers in the agricultural sector. We therefore conducted a survey to investigate the attitudes of the farming community to the use of food losses as feed.


While food losses (foods which were intended for human consumption, but which ultimately are not directly eaten by people) have been included in animal feed for millennia, the practice is all but banned in the European Union. Amid recent calls to promote a circular economy, we conducted a survey of pig farmers (n = 82) and other agricultural stakeholders (n = 81) at a UK agricultural trade fair on their attitudes toward the use of food losses in pig feed, and the potential relegalisation of swill (the use of cooked food losses as feed). While most respondents found the use of feeds containing animal by-products or with the potential for intra-species recycling (i.e. pigs eating pork products) to be less acceptable than feeds without, we found strong support (>75%) for the relegalisation of swill among both pig farmers and other stakeholders. We fit multi-hierarchical Bayesian models to understand people’s position on the relegalisation of swill, finding that respondents who were concerned about disease control and the perception of the pork industry supported relegalisation less, while people who were concerned with farm financial performance and efficiency or who thought that swill would benefit the environment and reduce trade-deficits, were more supportive. Our results provide a baseline estimate of support amongst the large-scale pig industry for the relegalisation of swill, and suggest that proponents for its relegalisation must address concerns about disease control and the consumer acceptance of swill-fed pork.

Citation: zu Ermgassen EKHJ, Kelly M, Bladon E, Salemdeeb R, Balmford A (2018) Support amongst UK pig farmers and agricultural stakeholders for the use of food losses in animal feed. PLoS ONE 13(4): e0196288.

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One Response to Support amongst UK pig farmers and agricultural stakeholders for the use of food losses in animal feed

  1. Iain Climie says:

    Interesting article and ties up with work tat “The Pig Idea” have been doing recently. Don’t forget spent brewery grain as an extra potential source of feed, though. I hate to admit this but brewing (and probably production of many other alcoholic drinks) is very wasteful if this isn’t done, whether spent grain or fruit pulp.



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