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Guide on 'leftovers' for livestock released

By acquainting stakeholders with the relevant legal requirements, a new guide aims to encourage the appropriate and lawful diversion of food scraps to animals, which, in turn, can create mutually beneficial partnerships between food waste generators and livestock growers and, ultimately, can reduce the negative environmental impacts of wasted food.

In “Leftovers for Livestock: A Legal Guide for Using Excess Food as Animal Feed,” the University of Arkansas Food Recovery Project and Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic provide the first-ever catalogue of the different state regulations and requirements for feeding food scraps to animals. "Leftovers for Livestock" serves as an important resource for businesses with food scraps that could go to animals, livestock farmers and other interested stakeholders.

In the U.S., approximately 160 billion lb. of food are wasted every year. The U.S. spends $218 billion each year growing, processing, transporting and disposing of this food. As wasted food breaks down in landfills, it emits methane — a potent greenhouse gas with 56 times the atmospheric warming power of carbon dioxide.

Given the significant environmental impacts of wasted food, there has been increasing interest and investment in diverting food from landfills in creative ways.

Feed is often the most costly — and certainly the most constant — input needed for animal agriculture. While commodity prices rise, farmers may be able to economize by sourcing excess food to be used as a feedstock or livestock feed supplement.

“While some studies show that the nutritional quality of food scraps can be comparable or even superior to traditional feeds, it is important to be mindful about the sourcing, selection and handling of non-commercial or non-traditional feed sources,” the report says. “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 well-being, secure a reasonable rate of growth, make use of food that would otherwise go to waste and save money.”

As more food scraps are recycled for animal feed, reduced amounts of energy, water and other resources could be dedicated to growing crops to feed animals. A recent study found that roughly 4.4 million acres in the European Union that currently are dedicated to the production of soybeans and grain to feed pigs could be spared by instead feeding the pigs treated, recycled food scraps.

"Leftovers for Livestock" describes the federal and state laws and regulations regarding the practice of feeding food scraps to animals and offers useful suggestions for both generators of food scraps and animal feeding operations.

The federal government creates a floor, or base level, of regulations for feeding food scraps to animals; however, states can apply stricter regulations than the federal baseline. Indeed, 48 states plus Puerto Rico more tightly regulate the feeding of food scraps to animals; some even have outright bans on the use of certain types of food scraps as animal feed.

For example, under federal law, food scraps can generally be fed to swine, so long as any food scraps containing meat or animal products are heat treated (heated at a boiling temperature of 212°F/100°C). However, 15 states ban the practice of feeding swine food scraps that contain any animal parts or material, and nine of these states even ban feeding any vegetable waste to swine. States also have different license and heat treatment requirements, with 12 states going beyond the federal rules and requiring heat treating of vegetable-based food scraps before they are fed to swine.

The patchwork of state and federal laws can appear daunting to those hoping to feed food scraps to animals. "Leftovers for Livestock" aims to help businesses donate or sell any food scraps; it helps livestock farms who want to feed their animals more sustainably navigate this complex framework by providing a guide to federal laws as well as detailed regulations in every state.

Using food scraps for animal feed can help reduce the amount of food scraps being sent to landfills while also helping businesses save money on garbage disposal costs, helping farmers save money on feed costs and decreasing the amount of land and natural resources used to grow the grains, soy and corn currently used for animal feed.

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