Global demand for meat, dairy, and egg products continues to increase as the world’s population grows and improving economic conditions allow for better diets and reduced world hunger. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations projects increases in world meat and dairy production over the next decade of 13 percent and 17 percent, respectively, and, says David Fairfield, senior vice president of feed services at the National Grain and Feed Association in Arlington, Va., a sustainable supply of nutrients for animal food is needed to meet this growing demand.
Carefully calibrated animal feed rations do a superior job of enabling livestock to grow out to slaughter weight in the fastest and most reliable way, says Nicole Civita, JD, LLM, adjunct professor of law at University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville. However, as increasing numbers of farmers, food entrepreneurs, and consumers become aware of and concerned about the environmental and economic problems associated with both livestock production and food waste, there is renewed interest in using food scraps as animal feedstock or as a feed supplement—a practice that has actually been used worldwide for centuries.
“Diverting food away from landfills and instead into a food supply for farm animals is a mutually beneficial practice for regional farms, food businesses, and the environment,” says Emily Broad Leib, JD, faculty director and clinical professor of law, Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic in Cambridge, Mass.
Civita points out that farmers can save money by using food scraps, because feed is often the most costly input needed for animal agriculture, and is certainly a constant need. “Farmers who carefully select types and combinations of food scraps that are nutritionally appropriate for and readily digestible by their animals should be able to simultaneously promote animal health and wellbeing, secure a reasonable rate of growth, and make use of food that would otherwise go to waste,” she says.
Additionally, many businesses and institutions that produce, process, sell, and serve food can save money in garbage disposal costs. “Diverting food scraps as animal feed presents the opportunity for significant cost savings [for food processors] in the form of reduced tipping fees that landfills and waste haulers charge to dispose food scraps,” Civita says.
Furthermore, diversion of substantial amounts of excess food for use as animal feed may shift commodity demand and reduce the environmental impact normally created. The majority of all crops—67% of the crop calories grown on farmland in the United States—are dedicated to feeding animals, Civita says.
Along these lines, Broad Leib says that using food waste reduces methane emissions of food in landfills. If scaled up over time, the practice can change the need for and supply of commodity feed production, using land more efficiently. According to a 2016 report from ReFED, an organization focused on reducing food waste, the United States currently sends approximately 63 million tons of food waste to landfills annually.
Laws and regulations at the federal and state levels outline how and what food waste can be repurposed for animal feed. For food waste-feeding operations to better understand and operate under the applicable laws, Broad Leib recommends that organization and business leaders take the following steps:
- Identify the type of animals being fed.
- Identify the type of food that will be fed to animals.
- Articulate reasons for feeding food waste and assess the feasibility of doing so.
- Separate animals that may be fed food scraps from those that may not.
- Develop a plan for acquiring, heat treating (if necessary), transporting, and/or storing food.
- Obtain or ensure that partner facilities have required permits, licenses, and certifications.
- Ensure that a food waste-feeding model complies with all applicable federal laws.
- Contact the relevant state regulatory body to confirm compliance with state laws and for further advice.
Both federal and state governments regulate the use of food waste in animal feed by setting requirements that largely concern the type of animals that may be fed food waste and the kind of waste they may be fed. The federal regulations function as a floor, and most state regulations go beyond them, Broad Leib says.