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The Pig idea: No hogwash this

Why are we talking about pigs? Because we recently read about ‘The Pig Idea’, an aptly titled new campaign spear-headed, by Chef Thomasina Miers and food waste expert Tristram Stuart from the UK, lobbying for a return to the age-old practice of feeding leftover food to pigs.

The protagonists mark this year's World Environment Day by launching this new campaign at London's Stepney City Farm, where they would be rearing eight pigs, primarily, on a diet of legally permissible food waste.

We at GT were bombarded by many questions. For many years, food waste was fed to pigs. Why was the practice abandoned? What was the health scare around the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak all about? Are we in India affected by any of this? Do we need to care?

So, what’s your Foodprint?
You have all heard about carbon footprint. Here is the new buzzword you ought to know: Foodprint. It’s essentially all about how much food you consume and how much you waste. You see, the theme for this year’s World Environment Day (WED) was Think.Eat.Save., an anti-food waste and food loss campaign that encourages you to reduce your foodprint.  According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted. This is equivalent to the same amount produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.

At the same time, one in every seven people in the world goes to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of five die daily from hunger.

Nothing to eat, what a boar
Anyway, you think pigs would be spoilt for choice with so much to dig into? Surprise, surprise! The pig campaigners found it difficult to manage even enough. Why? Remember the massive uproar caused after the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease in 2001. The pig eaters of the west, the primary consumers, refused to touch it. Now an alternative source had to be found to keep the pigs plump and edible.  

The smart swine sellers found a way out pronto. They simply turned the South American rain forests into a kitchen garden to grow food for the pigs. Ninety seven per cent of global soya production is used for animal feed. Apart from soya, pig farmers rely heavily on wheat and maize to feed their herds, which require land for cultivation.

The result? Rainforests being cut down at an alarming rate, higher food prices and pressure on the already over-stretched global food supply. This triggered The Pig Idea, complementing this year's World Environment Day themes — Food Waste and Sustainable Consumption.

Pigs and Deforestation
"We import millions of tonnes of soya from South America and that increases demand for deforestation, which contributes to biodiversity loss, interruption of hydrological cycles and contributes to global warming. And of course, on top of the environmental impact it puts additional strain on global food supplies... essentially our pigs in Europe are competing with people for food.”says Tristram.

Pig watching in India
Let us talk about India now. Indians might not be one of the world’s larger pig meat consuming community, but the hog population here is sizeable. If our pigs are turned into ‘food converters’, what better way of disposing our food waste? And food waste is a massive problem in India.

One-third of the food produced globally is wasted, according to FAO. Asian countries, especially India and China, are among the worst culprits. In India, it is estimated more than 230 cubic kilometers of fresh water, enough to provide drinking water to 10 crore people a year, goes into producing food items that are ultimately wasted. Recently, the Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar admitted that agriculture produce to the tune of
Rs 50,000 crore – 40 per cent of the total produce — is wasted every year in the country.

India should therefore keep a vigil on such innovative experiments. Watch them carefully, understand the problems they face and then learn and adopt what works best for our country.

Pigging it
So, the next time you see heaps of rotting food beside a half-dismantled marriage mandap or a truck of food gone foul before it reaches the cold storage surrounded by a fleet of pigs doing their bit furiously, don’t look  disgruntled. They are only doing their job!

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The Pig idea: No hogwash this