Due to high feed costs, Japanese pigs and poultry eat more food scraps from restaurants and supermarkets instead of their normal diets.
Japan disposes around 20 million tonnes of food waste per year. The leftovers used to be dumped in landfills where they decomposed and produced methane, a greenhouse gas.
Government legislation since 2001, however, has stimulated to turn food scraps into animal feed. Initially, farmers had been reluctant to feed the recycled food, but rising feed prices have made them more receptive to it. Feed from recycled food is about half the price of regular feed.
This trend has stimulated former garbage truck driver to set up Agri Gaia System, at the moment the largest food recycling company in Japan.
His drivers now cart truckloads of rice balls, sandwiches and milk discarded by 1,200 7-Eleven stores to his factory on the outskirts of Tokyo, where the food scraps are turned into two types of dry feed after a final heating process – one rich in fat and protein, the other lower in fat and protein but with more carbohydrates – and a liquid type, from pasteurised drinks such as milk and chopped vegetables.
A blind test of pork shows respondents tell the difference immediately, according to a university research. The fat of the pigs fed recycled food is sweeter than usual. Another effect of tasty feed is that hens produce more eggs than usual.
The feed is not used for cattle or sheep because of strict health regulations that were imposed to prevent mad cow disease.
Rely on imports
Japan imports about 75% of its raw materials from abroad. It is the world’s biggest importer of corn used for animal feed. The recent price increases of corn and soy meal have raised demand for recycled feed, but it still accounts for only 1% of raw material use in Japan, or about 150,000 metric tonnes in 2006, twice as much as in 2003.