Fri, Jan 18, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Question of food waste needs to be answered

By Chen Wen-ching 陳文卿

The African swine fever threat cannot be countered by armchair strategies or wishful thinking. The focus should be on real-life problems.

Hardly a day goes by without someone getting caught bringing meat products into the country, and there have been several instances where pig carcasses of unknown origin have been dumped.

These incidents are making people so nervous that they turn pale at the very mention of the fever, but so far they have all been false alarms.

Even though Taiwan has not had any outbreaks, restaurants and pig farms have been thrown into confusion over the problem of kitchen leftovers.

Many counties and cities have stopped collecting kitchen scraps for pig feed. It is no problem if household leftovers are thrown away with ordinary trash, but what can be done with the large quantities of swill that restaurants produce?

The problem is especially serious in the run-up to Lunar New Year, as it is peak season for banquets and the especially large amount of leftovers they produce.

A ban on feeding kitchen scraps to pigs cannot solve this problem — it would only make it worse.

More worrying is that when the channels for raising pigs with legally collected and closely monitored heat-processed kitchen leftovers are blocked, it makes it more likely that those leftovers will be transported all over the place.

Even if the liquid is removed and the remaining solid waste is incinerated or used to make compost, viruses can remain in the extracted wastewater for a long time.

It would therefore be safer to take kitchen waste for high-temperature heat processing within a day or two after it is produced to thoroughly eradicate any viruses.

There are about 5 million pigs in Taiwan, of which about 10 percent — mostly black pigs — are given kitchen leftovers instead of commercial feed. There are about 7,000 pig farms, of which about 2,000, or one-third of the total, use kitchen leftovers for feed.

If farmers who use commercial feed demand a ban on feeding kitchen leftovers to pigs, farmers who feed kitchen leftovers would come out in protest. There would then be a serious collision between the two groups. This cannot be allowed to happen.

An overall solution to the kitchen leftovers problem includes building anaerobic digestion plants, upgrading composting plants to make sure that they sterilize kitchen waste and drying kitchen swill at high temperatures to turn it into animal feed.

All these things need to be done, but they cannot be done soon enough to process the more than 1,000 tonnes of leftovers that Taiwan produces and feeds to pigs every day.

The government could subsidize pig farmers to switch over to commercial feed, but it cannot stop restaurants from producing kitchen waste. Restaurants should therefore encourage their customers to take uneaten food home.

Meanwhile, pig farms’ existing heat-processing facilities must not be scrapped. Rather, the government should help those farmers make their heat processing more effective to ensure that the swill is thoroughly sterilized.

As large-scale centralized heat-processing plants do not yet exist, this is the most direct and effective way to simultaneously solve the kitchen waste problem and prevent African swine fever infections.

Chen Wen-ching is a director of the Formosa Association of Resource Recycling.

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