Last week, the Council of Agriculture said that it wants to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To this end, it has established a “net-zero office” and announced three major carbon reduction strategies for agriculture: reducing emissions, increasing carbon sinks and promoting green energy.
The council made no secret that these initiatives are being introduced because agriculture is to be one of the first things affected by global warming and a food crisis is imminent.
At the same time, following the seizure of animal products contaminated with African swine fever that were brought into the country by a member of the public, the council, concerned that the virus might infect pigs on domestic farms, issued a directive that the use of kitchen scraps as pig feed would be prohibited for one month, and that hog farmers who relied on kitchen scraps would receive a subsidy to help cover the costs of switching to grain-based pig feed during the suspension.
In terms of dealing with an impending food crisis, the council has taken the correct action, but it is going to need to think more sustainably in the long term.
The main ingredients of pig feed used in Taiwan are corn, soy beans and fish powder, most of which are imported. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, not only has the price of ingredients risen overseas because of an unstable supply, but shipping costs have also risen, increasing the price of imported feed.
In the long term, the food shortage crisis and a food crisis are two sides of the same coin. If local farmers are prohibited from using kitchen scraps as a substitute for animal feed, and are obliged instead to use imported animal feed with its high carbon footprint, then total carbon emissions would rise, making it all the more difficult to achieve emissions targets.
Environmental departments have long provided kitchen scraps to hog farmers. Even though the farmers are helping deal with an environmental problem, this considerably reduces animal feed costs.
The council should not have just issued a directive prohibiting the use of kitchen scraps, it should also have devised a way to more substantially use the organic resources that this country has, to provide a safe, hygienic and pandemic-proof alternative.
Taiwan could take a leaf out of the playbooks of South Korea and Japan, which have for many years processed kitchen scraps by first removing excess moisture and then drying them at high temperatures to make a powdered animal feed additive that can be further processed, depending on whether it is to be used for mammals, birds or aquaculture, as a nutritional supplement.
Temperatures of more than 100°C are sufficient to destroy any germs, making the feed more hygienic and safe. Naturally, this kind of heat-treated feed would be more costly to produce than the “wet feed” currently used, but it would also be much safer, and the energy required for the process could be provided by biogas from the anaerobic digestion of organic waste, such as pig manure or urine.
The council would be congratulated even if it could reduce the problem of environmental pollution by dealing with kitchen scraps, but if it provided farmers with something that fed their livestock and reduced the purchase of chemical fertilizers, it would benefit the farmers and the government. Improving the food self-sufficiency rate is another important strategy when dealing with a food crisis.
With regards to the African swine fever crisis, the council needs to do more than simply offer subsidies.
Chen Wen-ching is an executive director of the Formosa Association of Resource Recycling.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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