Livestock help reduce food waste

Feeding food waste that isn’t suitable for humans can eventually convert it into food that is suitable, such as meat, milk, eggs and meat. | File photo

Scientists determine that feeding cattle things like hailed-out crops and food processing byproducts avoids wasting food

Scientists from the University of Manitoba, the University of Lethbridge and Agriculture Canada have been studying how livestock, particularly cattle, reduce food waste on the farm and waste from food processing.

Many Canadians associate food waste with lettuce, celery and cottage cheese that remains in the fridge for weeks before it’s tossed in the garbage, or bread and doughnuts left in a dumpster outside a grocery store because they have become stale.

However, food waste is more complex, and much of it happens before food arrives at Safeway, Loblaw’s or Tim Hortons.

“This definition of food loss is incredibly broad. Crops that get hailed out, chaff, kernels that go out the back of the combine … and wheat that fails to meet milling standards are all examples of on-farm food loss,” Reynold Bergen, science director with the Beef Cattle Research Council, wrote in Canadian Cattlemen.

“Byproducts from food processing, including broken or small potatoes, over-cooked chips and french fries, beet pulp, hulls, screenings, distillers grains and oilseed meals, are also considered food loss.”

Because this food, which isn’t suitable for humans, can be fed to livestock, the waste is eventually converted into milk, eggs and meat, Bergen said.

“Without livestock, this food truly would be lost, and the fertilizer, herbicide and fuel inputs … would also be completely wasted.”

As part of the research, the scientists hope to quantify how much “lost food” is consumed by cattle and other livestock.

“Our research will identify the extent to which byproducts are utilized … as well as opportunities to divert food waste from landfills and (turn it into protein),” Kim Ominski, U of M livestock scientist and project lead, said in Cattle Country.

The first report on their research will soon be published in Animal Frontiers, an academic journal.

Governments around the world are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on programs to cut food waste, including Canada’s federal government, which is sponsoring the Food Waste Reduction Challenge.

The challenge, launched last fall by Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, will award more than $10 million in prizes to businesses, non-profits and students who devise innovative solutions to the food waste problem.

The Food Waste Challenge is part of Canada’s commitment to the United Nations’ goal to reduce food waste 50 percent by 2030.

Food waste facts:

  • About eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are the result of food waste.
  • Twenty percent of all food pro-duced in Canada (about 11 million tonnes) is wasted or lost.
  • Thirteen percent of fruit and vegetables grown in Canada are unharvested or discarded following harvest, possibly because of bruising and other cosmetic issues, over-production or not enough employees to harvest the crop.
  • About 12 percent of food loss occurs at the retail stage of the supply chain.
  • Canadian hotels, restaurants and food service lose a high percentage of food. Estimates suggest 21 percent of dairy and eggs, 38 percent of produce, and 20 percent of meat are wasted.

Sources: Agriculture Canada,

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