• The most efficient thing to do with food waste is to feed it directly to pigs.

History of Pig Husbandry


After the outbreak of Foot and Mouth and its devastating consequences on British livestock in 2001, politicians introduced a ban on feeding catering waste to pigs, without considering the ban's economic and environmental impacts.

For thousands of years pigs have been man’s perfect partner in consuming the waste that humans produce and converting it straight into calories i.e. pork. Today supermarkets talk about composting food waste or turning it into electricity but by far the most efficient thing to do with food waste is to feed it directly to pigs.

Instead we have a crazy system where pigs are being fed food that humans could otherwise eat, and much of this feed is soy, grown on the Amazonian basin where rainforest is being cut down at an alarming rate. 97 percent of global soy production is used for animal feed and Europe now imports 40 million tonnes of soymeal a year. The amount of land needed to produce soy for the European market since the ban on meat and bone meal is roughly equal to the area of deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest since that date.

The governments of other countries such as Japan, South Korea, China and many states in the USA recognise that the best way of turning food waste into a valuable resource is to feed it to livestock. Instead of banning the practice, the Japanese government support pig farmers who want to use food waste as feed. The resulting pork is sold at a premium as eco-pork on the same supermarket shelves from which the waste originated. In the UK, thousands of British pig farmers have gone out of business because of increases in the price of wheat, maize and soy – the principal ingredients of pig and chicken food – on the global market place where the farmers are competing with people who wish to buy these grains for their own consumption. Returning to the practice of recycling food waste for livestock feed would be a way of increasing Europe’s food security for the future.

The most efficient thing to do with food waste is to feed it directly to pigs.

Facts & Figures

Food waste is a
Global crisis

A third of all food globally is wasted. All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US and Europe. The United Nations estimates that feeding food waste instead of commercial grains to livestock could liberate enough food to feed three billion people. 

We contribute to this
crisis with current
legislation regarding the feeding of food
waste to pigs

Around 20 times more carbon dioxide emissions can be saved by feeding food waste to pigs rather than sending it for anaerobic digestion (the next best recycling option). In Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, laws encourage using food waste to feed pigs. But under European laws, feeding most food waste (such as catering waste) to pigs is banned.

Instead of consuming our
waste food, European pigs
are currently fed cereal
crops and soy from
South America

This process contributes to deforestation, land hunger and pollution. 8.3 million hectares of land is required to produce just the meat and dairy products wasted in UK homes and in US homes, shops and restaurants. That is 7 times the amount of Amazon rainforest destroyed in Brazil in one year, largely for cattle grazing and soy production to export for livestock feed. The irrigation water used globally to grow food that is wasted would be enough for the domestic needs (at 200 litres per person per day) of 9 billion people - the number expected on the planet by 2050. If we planted trees on land currently used to grow unnecessary surplus and wasted food, this would offset a theoretical maximum of 100% of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

This practice not
only contributes
to global hunger
and environmental
disaster but affects
economies locally

UK pig farmers are being put out of business by expensive grain prices, when they have a ready-made food source for their livestock in the form of food waste.

This practice continues
due to shortsighted goals
and fear of change.

It is, however, unsustainable and leading us toward disaster. Governments are too scared to support initiatives to manage and regulate the feeding of waste to pigs, fearing a lack of public support. We need to show we care and are ready for change.


What is the Pig Idea?

The Pig Idea is a new campaign, started by food waste expert Tristram Stuart and the Feeding the 5000 team in partnership with chef Thomasina Miers to encourage the use of food waste to feed pigs. In addition to diverting legally permissible food waste, ultimately we aim to overturn the EU ban on the feeding of catering waste, or swill, to pigs.

The Pig Idea

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Why don’t we feed food waste to pigs any more?

In the decades following the Second World War, the pig’s status as a food waste recycler continued to decline, due to factors such as changing animal feed legislation and the availability of cheaper grain. Some swill feeding did continue, 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.

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What’s wrong with feeding pigs on commercial feed?

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. The United Nations estimates that if farmers all around the world fed their livestock on agricultural by-products, and on the food that we currently waste, enough grain would be liberated to feed an extra three billion people – more than the additional number expected to be sharing our planet by 2050.

Furthermore, 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.

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Shouldn’t we be feeding surplus food to people, not animals?

That’s absolutely right, and where possible all safe and edible unsold food should be used for human consumption, for example, being diverted to food redistributors who provide meals for vulnerable members of society. The Feeding the 5000 team run a global campaign on this issue, tackling food waste at source.

Further information on our food waste hierarchy can be found here.

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Is feeding food waste to pigs normal?

Absolutely! 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.

In the late 19th century, using food waste for pig feed declined because large volumes of cheap grain were available from the Americas. However, in times of scarcity, such as during the two World Wars, people went back to the thrifty practice of feeding pigs leftovers. During the Second World War, the stables in Hyde Park were turned into a piggery, tended by the police, and swill buckets were positioned on street corners and outside factories, hospitals and canteens.

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!

For more information on the history of feeding food waste to pigs check out our History of Food Waste & Pigs timeline.

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Is pork safe to eat that has come from pigs reared on food waste?

With the correct biosecurity measures in place, yes it is. Cooking leftover food renders it safe for pigs, and also for chickens. Pathogens such as Foot and Mouth Disease and Classical Swine Fever are effectively eliminated by heat treatment. Pigs and chickens are omnivorous animals, evolved to eat all the kinds of food that humans eat, and there is no evidence that feeding them properly treated food waste is unhealthy either to the animals, or to humans. That’s why countries like Japan and South Korea encourage this practice instead of banning it.

We can draw on the experience of other countries to make sure the surplus food is properly treated so it is safe for animals to eat. For example, to avoid the perceived risk of allowing farmers to collect food waste directly, it could be made mandatory for food waste to be treated in centralised processing plants, with simple remotely-monitored temperature gauge technology installed in the sterilisation units.

It is vital to distinguish this issue from the ban on feeding animal by-products to herbivorous ruminants (cows and sheep that have evolved to eat grass), which was introduced in the wake of the outbreak of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or Mad Cow Disease). The ban on feeding animal by-products and catering waste to herbivorous animals should, of course, remain in place.

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How can feeding food waste to pigs help farmers?

For many pig farmers 60-75% of their costs in rearing their animals can come from the cost of commercial feed. With people and farm animals competing with each other for food, the price of both animal feed and food for humans is rising. This is making it increasingly expensive for farmers to feed their animals, and many pig farmers are going out of business due to spiraling costs.

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 therefore be a much cheaper option for farmers.

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How will the food industry benefit from sending their food waste to feed pigs?

Sending food waste to landfill is becoming increasingly expensive, but companies also have to pay considerable fees to have food waste disposed of through the more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as composting and anaerobic digestion. Diverting food waste as livestock feed can therefore save a lot of money. To give an example, one food manufacturer we visited in England reported saving the equivalent of over £100,000 a year after we suggested they sell their bread waste as livestock feed for £20 per tonne, instead of paying an anaerobic digestion plant £80 per tonne to dispose of it. Following years of intense lobbying, some of the supermarkets are beginning to follow suit. Using food waste as livestock feed turns a costly waste product into a way to create revenue, jobs and food.

Additionally food businesses are becoming more aware of the issue of food waste and are working hard to achieve ‘Zero-Waste’ targets. However, when food is sent to composting or anaerobic-digester facilities, it is still being wasted. By ensuring food is kept in the food chain by sending unsellable or wasted food, businesses help to reduce the impact of food waste.

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How can feeding food waste to pigs improve our food system’s impact on the environment?

Land is being cleared – including the precious Amazon rainforest - to soy 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.

Rainforests are home to among the world’s most diverse wildlife; they help prevent soil erosion and the emergence of deserts, and crucially they are part of the system that creates rain worldwide that, in turn, helps farmers to grow our food. Meanwhile, a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions come from cutting down forests, which coupled with the impacts of sending food to landfill, contributes to climate change and increasingly extreme weather such as droughts and floods.

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, which contributes to the devastating problem of climate change that is threatening us all. Waste food often also contaminates clean materials such as glass, plastic and cardboard that could otherwise be recycled. Keeping waste food out of landfill would help to reduce greenhouse gases and increase recycling.

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Why don’t we just compost food waste or send it to anaerobic-digesting plants?

Composting and anaerobic digestion are costly methods of disposal and whilst they are much better than landfill, using food waste as livestock feed is environmentally and economically preferable. The carbon emissions savings of feeding food waste to pigs can be around 20 times greater than sending the same food waste for anaerobic digestion.

Anaerobic Digesting Plant

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Are there any farmers who are currently feeding legal food byproducts and waste to their pigs?

Yes there are. 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, because of a lack of understanding (on the part of both food businesses and Animal Health officers) of the regulations surrounding feeding surplus food to pigs, this does not happen as much as it could.

Our pigs being reared at Stepney City Farm are fed a nutritious diet of whey, spent brewer’s grains, okara (a byproduct of tofu production) and bakery waste, with additional toppings of unsold fruit and vegetables.

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When and where’s the feast?

The Pig Idea feast will take place in London’s Trafalgar Square on the 21st of November 2013.

Following the theme of Feeding the 5000’s free celebratory campaign feasts, we are inviting the general public to come dine with us on an array of delicious food that would have otherwise gone to waste. However, this event comes with an added culinary delight. 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 dishes made from the pork produced at Stepney City Farm.

Join us this November, and let them eat waste!

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