There is a campaign afoot which is being led by a group of environmentalists, chefs, food campaigners and celebrities, to end the ban on feeding food waste to pigs.
By reviving the old tradition of feeding swill to pigs, this group called The Pig Idea, consider the recycling of food waste to be both financially and environmentally sensible.
However, although members of the National Pig Association agree in principle, commercial pig producers would be unwilling to take the risk of feeding catering waste from the food chain because it has in the past, led to major notifiable disease risks.
Certain foods such as rapemeal, biscuit meal, cake and bread are fed to some pigs and is sourced directly from producers. But problems could arise if food waste contained meat, fish or eggs.
Pig swill must be cooked to a very high temperature to ensure that any infectious bugs or potential diseases are killed off. The last case of Foot & Mouth was traced back to a small pig farm where the swill was not being treated correctly.
The theory behind The Pig Idea which is being supported by the likes of Michael Roux, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Sara Cox, Janet Street-Porter, Jimmy Doherty, Ben Fogle, Tom Parker-Bowles and Emma Freud is a good one. The problem being that it only takes one break down of the system which could introduce a serious infectious disease, which could wipe out thousands of British livestock and cost the industry dear.
The days of small herds of pigs being carefully reared on small family farms have mostly gone and they have been replaced by large scale producers which rear thousands of pigs annually. The economies of scale has driven this, and the health and welfare of the pigs on these commercially run farms is critical. It is quite understandable why these farmers would be unwilling to take the risk.
The best way to recycle food waste today is by processing the product into bio digesters which generate electricity. They have voracious appetites which are satisfied by growing crops specifically for the purpose as well as waste from farm livestock.
I think perhaps this is a safer way to recycle food waste, a case of prevention rather than cure.
DEFRA is conducting a series of Regional Consultation Workshops around the country ‘To let those who may be affected know about the CAP consultation, decisions we’ve already made and areas where we want to hear their views.’
The reform of the CAP is in the final stages of European Union negotiations, and the nice people from DEFRA set up a meeting at the South of England Centre, Ardingly, which covered this part of the country. It was attended by around a hundred and twenty farmers, landowners and representatives of the NFU, RSPB and other organisations. We were informed that DEFRA want to have a CAP that supports English farming and ensure the implementation is simple, affordable and effective.
We listened to the presentation and then broke down into discussion groups which were asked to discuss aspects of the Cap reform such as, ‘Do you consider our preferred option not to extend the ‘negative list’ of activities forming part of the active farmer test?’
In other words did we agreed with DEFRA that the list of business types which will be ineligible to apply for direct payments, should not be increased. The list at present comprises operators of airports, railway services, waterworks, real estate services and permanent sport and recreational grounds!
We decided to leave well alone as after considerable discussion it was quite clear that this was dodgy ground.
If farms have diversified into all manner of businesses in order to support the core farming business, such as opening farm shops, tea rooms, business units, letting residential properties such as farm cottages and running wedding venues, for example, we could be considered ‘not to be farming exclusively’ and thus be ineligible for direct payments.
So, having been persuaded to diversify over many years by successive governments if we were not careful, this could count heavily against us.
Most of the questions related to how the funds in Pillar Two can be best be spent. Although the main thrust was towards non farming environmental schemes both on farms and within the community.
The important point which I and others made was that nowhere within this consultation document was a single word relating to traditional farming, or food production, including livestock grazing either on the lowlands or almost more importantly, on the moors and highlands.
When we asked whether DEFRA was interested in food production or food security the officers present were quite baffled and said food production was not on the agenda.
So, I think once again we must take from this exercise the conclusion that the primary role of farmers is to enhance the countryside for the public, tourists and the environment. And if it is not too much trouble and does not inconvenience the locals or annoy DEFRA, our secondary purpose is to produce food.
But as we learnt the previous week, whatever our production costs, and even if we are not receiving the same financial support as farmers in other EU countries, the food we produce must be very cheap.
Carola Godman Irvine