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Agriculture: Animal Feed

Volume 733: debated on Tuesday 6 December 2011

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the environmental and economic impact of feeding food waste to livestock.

My Lords, I should like to start by thanking noble Lords for joining me in this debate. There are many competing events this evening and I am most grateful to your Lordships for your interest in this subject.

Nine thousand years ago, humans domesticated pigs and chickens in order to recycle waste back into food. This eliminated the problem of waste disposal and increased the total amount of food available. More recently, feeding food waste to livestock has been mired in difficulties, particularly after the outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and classical swine fever, both of which were traced to badly managed swill-feeding systems, causing billions of pounds worth of damage to the UK economy and huge distress to farmers and citizens here and abroad. In 2001, the UK Government and the EU banned the feeding of catering and domestic food waste to livestock. Coming on top of the previous controls on feeding animal by-products to livestock that followed the BSE scandal, this put an end to an age-old practice.

Those measures may have been justified in the short term but there is now a compelling case for reassessment. At a time when increasing demand for food is putting a strain on natural resources and food security, and contributing to a global food system that leaves 1 billion people malnourished, we have an obligation to produce our food in the most efficient ways available to us. Needless to say, the top priority is to reduce the amount of food wasted in the first place, but the second best option is to use unwanted food to feed livestock.

It was obviously always a bad idea to feed animal by-products to herbivorous ruminants such as cows and sheep, but pigs and chickens are monogastric species like ourselves and are naturally omnivorous, thriving on the leftovers of our own food supply system. Sterilising food waste simply by heating it has been shown to be a guaranteed way of killing pathogens such as foot and mouth and classical swine fever, rendering it a safe source of livestock feed. There is peer-reviewed evidence that feeding food waste, including processed animal protein, to pigs has measurable benefits for their health and well-being, and there is an absence of evidence that feeding PAP and/or catering waste to pigs and chickens under appropriate rigorous controls creates an undue risk. Defra officials confirm that at the time of introducing the ban the British Government did not undertake research into the environmental or economic impacts of banning the feeding of food waste to livestock. This was an extraordinary omission, and we welcome the fact that Defra has now commissioned FERA to look into this issue.

The Governments of other countries such as Japan, South Korea and China and many states in the USA take the view that this is the best way of turning food waste into a valuable resource. Instead of banning the practice, the Japanese Government assist pig farmers who wish to convert to use feed derived from food waste. Supermarkets, manufacturers and catering establishments divert their food waste for this purpose, and the resulting pork is sold at a premium as eco-pork on the same supermarket shelves from which the waste originated.

This process must obviously be conducted strictly in accordance with robust controls to prevent the outbreak of animal diseases. Collecting food waste in centralised processing plants, many of which have been established in Asia, ensures that the heat-treatment process can be electronically monitored to ensure that all food waste is properly sterilised. This gets over the fear that individual rogue farmers will bypass the heat-treatment stage, as is believed to have occurred with the outbreak of foot and mouth in 2001. Japanese farmers are thereby able to save up to 50 per cent of their feed costs, putting them at a competitive advantage over British and European producers, who must purchase commercial feedstuffs on an increasingly volatile and unaffordable world market. The vulnerability from livestock feed imports is reflected in the fluctuation in the price of soy, which has increased by almost 200 per cent in 10 years.

British pig farmers are an endangered breed. Thousands have gone out of business in recent years and more are expected to lose their farms in the future. One of the main reasons for this has been the price of wheat, maize and soy—the principal ingredients of pig and chicken food—on the global marketplace. This is largely because farmers are competing with the growing global livestock industry, as well as with people who buy these grains for their own consumption. By relying on these commodities for pig and chicken feed, the British farming sector is dependent on foreign imports. While I would like to expand on this aspect, time does not permit, and I expect it to be addressed later in the debate. Resuming the practice of recycling food waste for livestock feed would therefore be a way of increasing Britain’s food security for the future.

Anaerobic digestion is rightly promoted as an alternative to landfill that can convert food waste into energy and digestate that can be used as fertiliser. However, where food waste is fit for animal consumption, research published by Tristram Stuart in his book Waste indicates that feeding it to livestock can save up to 500 times more carbon dioxide emissions than are saved by sending food waste for anaerobic digestion. Producing pork from food waste is also several times more profitable, economically speaking.

Some types of unwanted food—namely, bread, dairy, fruit and vegetable waste—can still be legally fed to livestock as long as it has not come into contact with meat. Whereas waste producers pay in the region of £80 per tonne to dispose of food waste in anaerobic digestion, if the food waste can be separated from animal products it can be sold to farmers for roughly £20 per tonne. I understand that one food manufacturer which introduced this system recently has saved in the region of £100,000 per year.

The Food and Drink Federation has successfully promoted the diversion of food co-products and by-products for animal feed, announcing in 2008 that its members had diverted to livestock feed over half a million tonnes of food that would otherwise have been wasted. Research shows that in the UK and across Europe millions more tonnes could be salvaged in this way. Defra is now working with some supermarket chains and local authorities to ensure that more legally permissible foodstuffs can be used in this way. Sainsbury’s confirmed last week that it now collects all its bread waste from stores across Britain and diverts this for animal feed. That is much to be welcomed. Wholesale markets such as the New Covent Garden Market in London also have their unwanted fruit and vegetables collected for pig feed. Further encouragements to food companies, local authorities and farmers themselves are needed to ensure that this is replicated across the whole retail sector and beyond.

One significant advantage of this is that there is currently insufficient anaerobic digestion capacity in this country, and new plants are expensive and take time to commission. By contrast, there already exists abundant capacity for diverting food waste to livestock feed; namely, Britain’s cash-strapped livestock farmers. To aid this process, it would be helpful to have clearer data on the quantities of different types of food that are currently wasted in Britain’s food supply chain. Supermarkets do not currently make these data publicly available, and that hinders the ability of businesses and Governments to invest in the infrastructure required to divert unwanted food for livestock feed.

Under the current legal framework, it is clearly essential that foodstuffs being diverted for animal feed should be kept absolutely separate from banned animal products. The NFU and the National Pig Association rightly raise concerns that retail outlets and manufacturers would need to be able to guarantee that any food being sent for livestock feed should never have come into contact with meat or other banned food products. Retailers sell bread, fruit and vegetables to consumers every day and guarantee that these have not been contaminated by contact with meat. They are presumably capable of operating systems that can guarantee this for food going for livestock feed with the same degree of rigour.

We should consider a three-pronged action programme. First, the Government, local authorities and the food industry should work together to promote the diversion of legally permissible foodstuffs such as bread, dairy, fruit and vegetables for livestock feed. This does not require any changes to existing regulations; it merely requires a rigorously practised safe method of separation and distribution. Secondly, there should be further much-needed research into the environmental and economic benefits of lifting the ban on feeding catering waste to livestock. Lifting the ban would require agreement from the majority of EU member states and the EC. This process will take time, but it should begin now. In a world of finite resources, maintaining the ban is not a sustainable option. Thirdly, the Government should support the proposed revision to existing animal by-products legislation to allow non-ruminant PAP from pigs and chickens to be used for pig and chicken feed.

I do not underestimate consumer concern but I do believe that the British public are able to understand that pigs and chickens are naturally omnivorous and that there is a pressing environmental and economic case for reintroducing the recycling of unwanted foodstuffs back into food in this traditional fashion. I very much welcome the Government’s interest in this issue and encourage a wholesale review of processes that could be used to enhance the environmental and economic performance of the British livestock sector.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, for securing this short debate on an important issue and congratulate her on the parliamentary campaign that she is waging on this issue. I am sure that we will hear a great deal more from her on this topic before too long. I also congratulate her on her very comprehensive survey of the issue and the measured way in which she has put forward proposals for change. By and large, I associate myself and the Liberal Democrats with what she said.

I shall make a few more peripheral comments as I do not want to repeat everything she said about this issue. The background is that many millions of tonnes of edible food are sent to landfill in this country as well as a lot more inedible food. It is estimated by the community interest company Food AWARE that perhaps 18 million tonnes of edible food ends up in landfill. Other people have different estimates of the amount of food that is thrown away and where it ends up, but what is common to all of them is that it is many millions in all cases. Again according to Food AWARE, we are in effect throwing away £23 billion a year, a figure that is rapidly rising as food prices are going up at the moment.

The environmental damage that this creates is obvious. Landfill costs and the landfill taxes that local authorities have to pay are equally obvious. Perhaps a little less obvious is the effect on people. Many people, particularly those on low incomes, are unable to afford what is described as, and is, healthy food and end up buying cheap junk food, although the price of that may be going up too. The effect of this food policy is ironically increasing malnutrition among such social groups and at the same time there is an increasing problem of obesity in the country. People are eating the wrong food, and they are eating too much of it. They are getting fatter, but they are not getting healthier. Disposal costs are passed on to consumers in higher prices and the landfill taxes that local authorities have to pay.

The NFU, quoting research at the University of Sussex, suggests that 20 million tonnes goes in the bin from domestic use alone. I do not know where it all goes. A lot of it perhaps does not go to landfill, but many million tonnes of food are still being thrown away. The statistics across the world are fairly well known. In Europe, on average 90 kilograms—200 pounds —of food is thrown away per person per year. In North America, it is even worse. Other parts of the world are similar. In industrialised Asia, it is 180 pounds. In much poorer parts of the world it is less. In south and south-east Asia it is 33 pounds, in Latin America it is 55 pounds and in sub-Saharan Africa it is only 11 pounds.

The fact that the richer parts of the world are throwing away so much edible food is a global disgrace. There is enough food produced in the world to feed the entire global population and, in fact, the projected global population for many years. The fact is that those of us in countries such as ours are depriving people in other parts of the world of that food because of the amount that we throw away. Looking at the famous waste hierarchy, the first thing we have to do is not to talk about what we do with the waste food that we throw out but to cut down the amount of waste food that we have in the first place. Efforts are being made by supermarkets, caterers, commercial producers of meals and some households, but it is nothing like enough. Until we tackle that basic problem, all the other things are really irrelevant.

The NFU is not against what is being proposed, but quite rightly advocates caution. It points out that feeding waste from catering establishments, including home kitchens and restaurants, has been banned, even if it is only vegetable waste, ever since the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, which some of us remember with horror in our own areas.

The noble Baroness went back 9,000 years, which is a long time even for the House of Lords. Those of us who go back to the years just after the war remember when we all had pig bins in our streets in which we put our food—thoroughly smelly things they were—in order for it to be taken away and made into pig swill. We do not want to go back to that kind of thoroughly unsanitary situation, but it appears that a cautious but determined approach to using much more waste food for feeding animals, particularly pigs, which are capable of eating animal and vegetable waste food, is a sensible way forward. The NFU is not against that. It says:

“This coupled with the obvious environmental benefits of reducing the tonnage of waste disposed in landfill each year, will lead to mounting pressure on the UK Government and within the EU to re-instate food waste into livestock diets. Yet due to historical precedents, the issue must be approached with an air of caution”.

I do not think any of us can disagree with that. Studies that are taking place are being approached in that way.

In order to do anything with domestic food waste, anaerobic digestion has an important part to play. I understand the point made by the noble Baroness that ultimately anaerobic digestion puts a great deal of the CO2 back in the atmosphere, whereas if you feed it to animals it just recycles it within the system.

Whether food waste is used for anaerobic digestion, feed to animals, generating energy or whatever, it has to be collected. There are great concerns at the moment about whether local authorities will be able to collect food waste separately in ways that allow it to be reused and recycled under the proposals being put forward by the Government and being promoted particularly by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, even though it seems essentially to be a Defra matter. His obsession is weekly collections of food waste. They are an excellent idea if the food waste is collected separately from everything else. If it is simply put into the grey bins with the residual waste and mixed up, and given the state of the technology that most local authorities have access to at the moment for the separation of the waste that has been collected, that food waste will simply end up in landfill. That would be a highly undesirable side effect of what Mr Pickles is proposing. Of course, where local authorities at the moment are not collecting food waste, it will make no difference because it simply goes in the fortnightly collections, but where local authorities are already collecting food waste separately, would like to do so or would be willing to do so, the fundamental question is whether the amount of money that Mr Pickles is offering to local authorities—£250 million in total—will be able to be put towards separate weekly food waste collection as opposed to food waste going in the grey bin.

I asked a Written Question about this recently and got a brush-off, really, which was, “We are still thinking about it”. I do not blame my noble friend the Minister here because it was not he who gave the Answer; the DCLG replied to the Question, even though it is a Defra matter. There is real confusion here and it really would help if the Minister could either answer the question or, if not, go back to his colleagues in the DCLG and say that lots of local authorities want to collect food waste separately and want to collect it weekly, but if Mr Pickles is providing all this beneficence to local authorities can he please provide it in a sensible way and not in a very old-fashioned way that just results in the stuff going to landfill?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington for introducing this short debate. It is actually very timely. She asked us to consider the environmental and economic impacts of the proposed changes, at a time when we have so much waste, which she has clearly identified. I should perhaps remind the House of our family’s farming interests. My original profession was in fact breeding poultry and we also had pigs on our farm, neither of which I am involved in any more.

As my noble friend has indicated, the pig industry already uses over 1 million tonnes per annum of co- and by-products from food manufacturing, mainly in the form of wheat feed, biscuit meal, cake, bread and cereals products, starch extract products, and whey products. However, it is a highly regulated industry. I cannot stress this enough. All the products have to be FEMAS-assured and do not come from manufacturing plants that have any meat products, in order to minimise the risk of cross-contamination.

I was shadow Minister at the time of the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, and I cannot stress enough the huge impact it had across the country, not just closing farms but movements of markets, countryside access, and rural concerns put out of business in the long term as a result of it. The ban on pigswill also, sadly, put 60 of those swill feeders out of business. What has come through from the NPA and NFU briefings is a note of real caution, and I hope my noble friend will reflect that caution when he responds—that it is not totally dismissed—as there have to be very strong rigours to ensure there is no question of cross-contamination.

From the briefings that we have had, the other big issue that has been raised is—as at the time of the foot and mouth outbreak—public concern and public confidence. Certainly the one thing the farming industry does not wish to see is another shake of that confidence, which has been restored over the years so that people trust the food they eat. Whatever the European Commission or our Government decide to do, very strong systems should be built in to make sure that there is no contamination.

The National Pig Association also goes on to say quite clearly:

“Whilst the focus should be on reducing the amount of waste produced in the first place, we would support alternative methods of dealing with waste food such as anaerobic digestion and gasification”.

Obviously these are also useful forms of energy. Taken with the briefing from the National Farmers’ Union that has been quoted by others already, it is important to recognise that here are two organisations that you think would be very much in favour of it, which say, “Yes, we will consider it but there are indeed questions attached to it”.

As I mentioned earlier, we are in an era where we have waste on one hand and increasing costs on the other. This debate gives me an opportunity to raise a couple of questions with the Minister. As the briefing from the NFU says:

“This waste utilisation issue coincides with a severe shortage of availability of GM free animal feed protein, particularly soya, which is grown predominantly in South America, and used by the pig and poultry sectors. Whilst EU GM feed restrictions continue, the price of GM-free soya is rocketing”—

which my noble friend referred to earlier—

“putting inflationary pricing pressures on UK produced pig and poultry products, whilst perversely, imported products are allowed to have been fed GM diets”.

So my question to the Minister is: should this aspect not be looked at again? Should the EU not be reconsidering its stance on GM? If it wants to maintain that stance, surely it should be looking at ways to protect UK pig and poultry producers from having to compete unfairly with products that are allowed to be brought into this country. It is an important part of the debate we are having tonight.

I have also looked up the letter that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, sent on behalf of the Food Standards Agency. While I do not always agree with the Food Standards Agency, it too recognises the need for caution. The letter to my honourable friend Jim Paice on 15 September, discussing the current feed ban, also says that,

“provided effective controls to prevent infective material from entering feed are maintained, the proposed changes would give rise to a negligible risk of exposing farmed animals to BSE. Hence the risk to consumers would also be negligible. The Board was concerned, however, that this assessment relies on controls and enforcement, and that the risk would be negligible only if the controls were effective”.

Therefore, the recommendation from its recent meeting was that,

“the Board agreed to advise Ministers that the UK should not support the proposed\ changes”.

This is a very important discussion and I am really grateful to my noble friend for raising it. For me, it raises some very basic issues. We have waste; we need to deal with it. It would be better not to have it in the first place, to be perfectly honest, but there are ways in which we can use that waste without necessarily feeding it to pigs and poultry. We can use it in biofuels, anaerobic digesters and pet foods. We have the cost of purchasing and getting non-GM food for our producers here. The EU has to look at both sides of the equation.

I am very grateful for this short debate tonight to give us a chance to think about the ways in which we produce food in this country and where we would aim to go in the future. At the end of it all, the main goal should be to reduce food waste. Something like a third of the food that we produce here in this country is wasted. My noble friend Lord Greaves mentioned countries overseas. Their problem is different. Their waste is not what is actually put on the plate, but is a result of a lack of infrastructure to get it from the field where it is grown into the shops or markets—wherever people buy their food. Internationally, it is a slightly different challenge that they face.

I say to my noble friend Lady Jenkin that, while I support her thoughts behind her debate tonight, I cannot emphasise enough the degree to which we must be very careful, whichever way we go in the future. We could look back at the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001; if one accepts that it came from pigswill, it would mean that there was a system in place which should have made that not happen, but sadly it did happen. Therefore, whatever system goes on in the future, those controls and inspections need to be in place and reviewed regularly. I thank the noble Baroness for giving us this opportunity to speak tonight.

I, too, would like to thank my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington for this debate tonight and also for her brilliant analysis of why we must change our attitude to food waste. I further thank her for introducing me to Tristram Stuart and his book, which she has generously lent me, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, which I felt could have been subtitled “a philosophy for life”. I feel passionately that it is immoral to waste the planet’s resources; he gives the facts and figures behind that immorality and shows that there is a different way forward.

My noble friend Lady Jenkin mentioned the examples from Japan showing how it is technologically possible to separate out food waste streams and create an entirely safe way of feeding food pellets—perhaps the term “swill” is not helpful anymore—to non-ruminants with no risk at all, to create a better, more premium product. That is an entirely desirable vision which is actually realisable. It is all about having the confidence to regulate the food streams in that way and giving industry the confidence that the regulators can do it. I think that consumer confidence will then follow. People go off quite happily to Japan and other places that are doing this and eat pork, so it is not as though this is an impossible vision to realise.

In my contribution tonight, I mostly want to talk about the environmental damage that will occur if we do not change our attitude. First, I want to pick up something that my noble friend Lady Byford mentioned—the question of GM soya. I will be very sorry if this debate about food waste was in any way hijacked—I am certainly not suggesting that my noble friend was doing this—by those who want to promote the increased use of soya feed, whether or not it is GM. We cannot import GM soya into the EU at the moment, but this should not be seen as a marketing opportunity for GM feed producers to push their product, just because the non-GM soya has got so expensive. This is all about replacing the soya, and that is what I want to concentrate on: why we should be replacing it.

The ban on feeding food waste to livestock necessarily meant that Europe has had to increase imports of commercial livestock feeds, including soy meal, of which roughly 40 million tonnes are imported to Europe annually. The amount of land needed to produce soy for the European market since the ban on meat and bone meal in 1996 is roughly equal to the area of deforestation in the Brazilian rainforests since that date. That might be coincidence, but it is a very good example of this destruction. It is for this reason that the United Nations called on the EU to reconsider the overcautious legislation, concluding that encouraging the recycling of food waste into livestock feed could,

“contribute substantially to the feed supply, and by the same token release pressure on land”—

thereby reducing,

“biodiversity erosion, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions”.

Poultry feed accounts for more than half of all soya used in the UK livestock sector and much of this could be replaced by using food wastes, including processed animal proteins.

As well as land use causing deforestation, another knock-on effect is that of local farmers in Latin America who are evicted from their landholdings to make way for the large ranches and soya plantations. Last month, at the All-Party Group on Agro-Ecology, of which I must declare an interest as a co-chairman, we heard from the national co-ordinator of the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil about the effect on families who not only lose their land but can no longer grow food for their communities.

In Paraguay, 2.5 million hectares of soil were planted in 2006-07. Friends of the Earth found that every year in Paraguay alone 9,000 rural families were evicted because of soya production. Therefore, those families are not producing food for themselves and their communities. I have seen for myself the importance of corn, rice and beans in the Latin American diet. That food production is being displaced by soya production and the effect is that families are no longer able to afford a basic nutrition basket.

It is certainly not just me who has made that link. Defra has made the link between what happens when we import so much soya feed and what happens on the ground in Latin America. Recently, the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, announced that Britain would contribute £10 million to help to protect the Cerrado in Brazil. She said:

“The Cerrado is rich in biodiversity and yet, alarmingly, it has almost halved in size, because of wild fires and the demand for agricultural products”.

Because of time I will not go on with what she said, but she made a very good analysis of the problem. She spoke about the loss and in conclusion she said:

“We won’t succeed in tackling climate change unless we deal with deforestation”.

We really must wean ourselves off this extreme need for soya.

I should like to look at the points of resistance that allow us to throw away so much; that is, the FSA, the NFU, the supermarkets and the food processing industry. The FSA is tasked to be rigorous in its risk assessment but, in its recent analysis, it said that the risks to human health of feeding PAP to pigs and chickens was negligible. That does not suggest a high risk or even a medium risk; it is a negligible risk. It is probably the sort of equivalent risk to something that is very common and highly regulated—the spreading of sewage on farmland. The FSA’s conclusion was that the risks were negligible. But its board also did not look at the benefits in environmental terms of stopping some of the issues that I have mentioned, such as deforestation. That might be because it is not in its remit but in our globalised world where everything is linked, it is hard to think that it should not have had a view on that.

I am sorry to say that I found the NFU brief for this debate rather shocking. Most of its reasons for why this was not a good idea were not mentioned tonight. They included staff in supermarkets being less well informed and not understanding the importance of properly segregating the products. Furthermore, the NFU believes that pet pig owners might pose a problem. Finally, in this regard, it states:

“Should the focus become more about using pigs to dispose of waste, the level of ammonia and nitrogen excreted from pigs could increase”.

I think that the NFU has been missing the point. I would ask it to go back and look at some of the examples that the noble Baroness quoted of things that are happening abroad and think about whether it could not help the pig industry here by taking a bit more of a positive attitude.

Finally, WRAP, the supermarkets and the processors have made some very good steps with the Courtauld commitment. Phase 2, which is happening now, is all about achieving the more sustainable use of resources. Pretty much all our major supermarkets and processors are signed up that. Part of that commitment must be to address this issue and to make progress on it. So my question for the Minister is this: does he think the Government could help with the very unhelpful regulation on the one-roof policy, which means that if something is produced under the same geographical roof of an establishment that also deals with meat products, that is always going to be a huge hindrance? Is this not more about working towards a total separation plan and making sure that it is regulated and enforced? That is the way forward.

In conclusion, this is all about education in schools and getting our children to realise the effect of wasting anything. Some great examples can be found in the Food for Life Partnership in schools and by the Royal Horticultural Society. Earlier today a parliamentary delegation went down to Wisley to see some of its work with school children, who completely got the thing about, “If you have put all that effort into growing food, do not waste it”.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, on instigating this short debate and on the way she introduced it. She made a powerful case for change and asked valid questions on, for example, what is being done to encourage supermarkets to divert more food waste for animal feed. I also agree that more research is needed on feeding catering waste to animals. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, supported her and wanted more to be done to reduce food waste in the first place, although I felt that he advocated a little more caution. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, then went much further down the caution spectrum in harmony with the National Farmers’ Union. Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, gave an equally well informed speech inspired by the work of Tristram Stuart. Her contribution was particularly important in articulating some of the environmental arguments.

For my part, it is clear that this is a very sensitive issue; sensitive for consumers and producers alike. At one level, it could be thought that this is quite simple and a win-win-win for producers, consumers and the environment that has been turned into a lose-lose-lose for all three by dint of risk-averse stable-door regulation—and, indeed, the argument is tempting. Each year, as we have heard and according to the Farmers Guardian, some 16 million tonnes of food is wasted in this country at a cost of £22 billion. That is truly shocking and the Government need to explain how they hope to reduce it.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a friend who lives with a somewhat obsessive son in his early 20s who is now a “freetarian”. He will only eat free food. I gather that a couple of times a week he goes out in the small hours in his van and sees what he can find in the skips at the back of supermarkets. His family and their friends now rarely buy food. They already have the Christmas turkey in the freezer and some whole cheeses, while the rugby club has a good supply of out-of-date beer. Some supermarkets are apparently much better than others. I gather that Marks & Spencer very rarely throws away anything that is edible. It is not for me to comment on the safety or legality of this practice, but it demonstrates that a lot of food is thrown away and, in this case, is being used for human consumption with no ill effect that I am aware of.

The argument goes that if all this food is being thrown away, why not feed it to animals under a regulatory regime that protects human and animal health? Would not that be better for the environment than putting it into landfill? We have heard those arguments articulated very well this evening. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, particularly made clear, the environment would also win because the feed would displace costly imports, especially of soya. I read an article in the May edition of Farmers Weekly by the much quoted Tristram Stuart in which he stated that,

“the EU imports 40 million tonnes of soya a year. Producing that soya comes at a huge environmental cost. If we made use of waste food for animal feed, we could substantially reduce pig farmers’ costs of production as well as having a significant environmental impact”.

This is exacerbated by the shortage in availability of GM-free animal feed protein, which causes prices to rocket while imported products are allowed in, despite having been fed GM diets. Perhaps in passing the Minister could answer the questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on essentially whether there are plans to level the playing field for producers. Or, perhaps, given what I saw today on the BBC website around the difficulty of banning the import of illegally produced eggs from battery hens, it might be in Defra’s “too difficult” drawer. I am sure that the Minister will enlighten us.

On the face of it, waste food that is being thrown away could be fed to livestock that currently are being fed expensive, environmentally damaging food. It looks like a win-win-win, for producers, environmentalists and consumers. This is reinforced by other academics. I saw a paper this evening by Elferink, Nonhebel and Moll—I think they are Dutch—in 2007, which concluded that,

“the use of current food residue keeps the environmental impact of livestock foods relatively low”.

However, as the National Farmers’ Union points out, it is not as simple as that. As we have heard, the practice of feeding waste food from home kitchens and catering establishments was banned following the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. With the devastation caused by that outbreak, I think it is right to be cautious.

It is also the case that over a million tonnes of co- and by-products from food manufacturing are already used by the pig industry, and that was detailed in the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. As she said, all products have to be Feed Materials Assurance Scheme-assured, and the use of waste products as animal feed is fine as long as it is properly audited. The risk of going further is that the risks of cross-contamination with meat products increase and we have another animal health disaster.

If a viable scheme were possible, with supermarkets that separated food waste so that only suitable waste went to livestock, would the retailer risk the reputational damage if anything went wrong? What if one of their staff accidentally sorted the waste wrongly? If hobbyist pig farmers—I know this was in the NFU briefing—saw that supermarket food waste was being fed to animals, would they go back to feeding their animals anything and regarding pigs as a natural dustbin? That would be a disastrous outcome. We, therefore, need to proceed with care. That is why, in the end, I am more at the Byford end of the caution spectrum.

The obscene levels of food waste need to be tackled. I ask the Minister what his Government's proposals are to tackle it. Is this something the grocers’ adjudicator could also report on? Are there going to be incentives for others uses of food waste? We have heard a little about anaerobic digestion, and had some enthusiasm from one or two of the supermarket chains about it. Could that be encouraged by Defra and DECC? As others have said, what can be done in relation to biofuels? Are there more industries that have food waste as a by-product that could dispose of their food by feeding it to livestock?

I end by repeating some of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, around research. Is the department funding research into sterilization of some food to make this possible? As we have heard tonight, there are conflicting claims about the scientific evidence that proved the feeding of waste food to pigs links to foot and mouth or swine fever. Is the Minister confident of the scientific link? If not, is the chief vet ensuring the research is being done?

This is not straightforward. It is right to take a precautionary approach, however tempting it is to go for the win-win-win. The Government need to take a lead, and reassure producers and consumers that they will be led by the science. We need to be reassured that the Minister then has the budget to ensure the science is being done.

My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington for bringing this topical debate to the House. It has been a very interesting debate—not quite a love-in but, none the less, we seem to have all agreed on a number of elements in this issue.

Perhaps I can help the debate by updating the House on the current position. Defra is funding a review of the available evidence on the benefits and risks of using food waste in animal feed, which lies at the heart of the debate we have had this evening. This is a desk study, being conducted by FERA, and it is due to report in May 2012. Six months from now we should have further information on the science, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, rightly asked about. The study will review the existing evidence base to examine the risks to human and animal health, the social and environmental sustainability and the economics of using food waste in animal feed.

Preventing food waste is better, environmentally, than any other treatment and can offer benefits for businesses and households. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer for making it clear that WRAP has been working really hard on this front and indeed reducing waste, by consent, through the Courtauld agreement, with Courtauld commitment 2 about to come in. However, some food waste will always arise. The waste review states that such waste should be kept out of landfill and treated in the most sustainable way.

Anaerobic digestion and composting enable treatment of food waste as a valuable resource. Anaerobic digestion provides renewable energy and a valuable source of biofertilisers. I share with my noble friends my thanks to my noble friend Lady Jenkin for the opportunity to read the book by Tristram Stuart, which has been much quoted this evening. I am not sure that, on the information currently available, I can accept his thesis as it stands, but our research should inform us on this subject, and I am sure noble Lords would want that to be the case. It is certainly a very welcome contribution to this debate. We can say that all of us this evening share a common agenda to reduce food waste.

I know that evidence has been presented to show that feeding food waste to pigs may be better in some cases than the recovery of its energy in an AD plant. I hope the Defra-funded study currently under way will clarify the evidence that exists on the issue. Meanwhile, I am anxious to encourage the charitable distribution of potential retail food waste. My noble friends also introduced me to FareShare and FoodCycle, organisations that are receiving considerable and increasing support up and down the food chain. This is an excellent way of reducing food waste as well as, at the same time, providing much-needed support to families and individuals with low disposable incomes.

There are some very real animal health concerns, however, about feeding food waste to animals. Under EU legislation, both ruminant and non-ruminant farm animals may not be fed catering waste, sometimes known as swill, as it may be a vector for serious animal diseases. This is waste food from kitchens or catering outlets. Feeding this waste to livestock was banned in the UK and the rest of the EU following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001, which has been referred to several times. The ban stayed in place following a recent revision of the EU animal by-products regulations because it was recognised that disease risks—evident then—still remain.

No one wishes to see another situation like the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001, so a degree of caution is prudent. The Government are keeping their position on feeding catering waste under review, and further examination of the scientific evidence base is important to ensure that our policy is founded on strong evidence. However, even if we were convinced that swill feeding could be reintroduced safely, a relaxation of the ban would probably require scientific support from the European Food Safety Authority. Given the need for this and—we must not forget nowadays—the EU co-decision process, we are likely to be several years away from the prospect of any changes to the ban on feeding catering waste to livestock. It has been very interesting to hear from my noble friend Lady Jenkin about the way in which this matter has been dealt with in Japan, and Europe has the opportunity of studying that further.

As I mentioned, catering waste is the waste food from kitchens and catering outlets. There are different rules for surplus food that originates from manufacturers and retailers and is no longer intended for human consumption. As the noble Lord, Lord Knight, pointed out, such food can be fed to livestock if it comes from premises with appropriate separation procedures to prevent any contact with animal by-products such as meat and fish. This includes bakery waste that does not contain meat or fish and surplus fruit and vegetables. Some of the larger supermarkets are already working to increase the supply of surplus bakery products to animal feed, and Defra has been working with them to ensure this can be done safely.

My noble friend Lord Greaves challenged me on the whole issue of domestic food waste and sought to extend the debate a little further outside its immediate confines by raising the issue of bin collections. All I can say to him is that I am not in a position to make the announcement, as a decision on that rests with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I know that he will shortly make an announcement on what he proposes on this issue.

Then there is the whole issue of processed animal protein, which cannot be made from catering waste but can be made from foodstuffs no longer intended for human consumption from manufacturers and retailers, such as meat or bones, as well as abattoir by-products including blood and feathers. The European Commission is proposing to lift the ban on feeding processed animal proteins from non-ruminants to other omnivorous or carnivorous non-ruminants. The ban on cannibalism —that is, an animal eating a like animal, not something more dramatic, I have to say—would be retained.

Yes. My noble friend Lady Byford rightly emphasised the need for caution and referred to the NFU position on the issue, which was similarly cautious. I remind noble Lords that we need to take consumers with us on these issues. We know how difficult that can be to ensure that consumers are totally reassured on issues of this nature.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the fact that the EU is reviewing this attitude to processed animal protein. It is generally accepted that meat and bone meal from dedicated poultry slaughterhouses could be perfectly safely fed to pigs. Does he have any indication when the EU will make a decision on this point? Otherwise, will it be included in the review that is due to be brought out in May 2012, which Defra is currently conducting?

Indeed, this is exactly the sort of issue on which we want to have proper scientific evidence before we take our own position within Europe. I hope that I can reassure my noble friend on that very point.

As my noble friend Lady Byford said, we know in this country that bodies such as the Food Standards Agency have already made comments on the European proposal, which lies at the heart of why this debate has become more topical. The UK Government, working with the devolved Administrations, are currently considering this proposal. In reaching a negotiating position, we will need to take account of the science, the control tools available, the likely market demand, and consumer views. Existing legislation does not necessarily condemn PAP to waste, and our assessment shows that most PAP produced in the UK goes into the pet food market. I have a very useful schedule of statistics here, which I will make available to all noble Lords who have shown an interest in this topic by being in the Chamber this evening. I will make sure that we make those figures available, because they are very interesting. They show, for example, that within the EU 98 per cent of poultry PAP is used in pet food. The figures are quite striking and should inform our debate.

I understand my noble friend Lady Byford’s point about GM. It is a matter to which we are alerted. I will not, however, describe it as being in the “too difficult” drawer. It is of course a complex issue, but to put it in a drawer and suggest that it is shut away for ever would be to misdescribe Defra’s view of it. We are supporting scientific work because we want to understand more what potential and opportunities may exist through the use of this technology as long as science lies at the bottom of it all.

To sum up, we are funding a review of the available evidence on the subject of today’s debate and expect the results in May next year. This is part of our commitment to tackling the problem of food waste: reducing it where we can and dealing in the most sustainable fashion with what does arise. I hope that the results of this research will help us in this aim but we must recognise the need for caution here and prioritise the need to protect public and animal health. This has been a good debate and there has been a strong consensus that reducing the amount of food waste we produce should be a major aim of us all.

House adjourned at 8.52 pm.