On a small scale, why is it illegal to give food waste to chickens and other animals?
Imagine you have a factory producing sandwiches for supermarkets and petrol stations etc. Maybe you’re producing 100,000 packs a day or even more. Now imagine the worst thing that could happen. Perhaps someone comes in to work with food poisoning and contaminates the product and 100,000 people come down with food poisoning.
Obviously you’re going to take stringent precautions to keep the product as it should be and people safe. Staff will wear special clothing including hair and beard guards. Disposable gloves will be worn. Temperatures of the storage taken and recorded regularly – perhaps every hour. Suppliers will be subject to similar rules and everything will be checked and double-checked. You get the picture.
Now, since businesses have a tendency to bend or break rules to save money, we’ll back these rules and regulations up with the force of law and inspectors will visit to make sure all is as it should be. Penalties for breaking the law will go as far as imprisonment. In view of the risks if something goes wrong, this makes good sense.
Now let’s apply those laws to anyone and everyone who makes a sandwich or any food for that matter.
Imagine the scene – the Oxo family of Dad and two kids sit at the table whilst Mum dishes up a meal. Suddenly there’s a knock at the door. Dad opens it and in walks.. The Health Inspectors.
“We notice you’re not wearing approved clothing, Mrs Oxo. Where are your refrigerator temperature records? Why do you not have a separate hand-washing facility?”
The next scene is Mrs Oxo standing tearfully in the dock as the judge passes sentence. “Two Years! Take her down!”
Think that’s ridiculous? Insane? – Read on!
Feeding chickens kitchen scraps
Because there is no requirement for owners of less than 50 birds to register, there are no hard figures about how many people keep a few back garden chickens – the best estimates are around the 750,000 mark. I know from my website forum that most of those keepers are unaware of the law and many who are aware just ignore it.
Technically you can get two years in prison for feeding your pet hen kitchen scraps. Hens are livestock and the law doesn’t differentiate between home owners with a couple of birds and agribusiness operations with 100,000 birds.
Food that is fine to serve to the family is illegal to feed to your chickens. Even a tin of spaghetti in tomato sauce freshly opened and heated in the kitchen. It gets crazier. You pick a cauliflower and cut the leaves off on the plot. It’s fine to feed those leaves to your hens. Take the cauliflower into your kitchen, cut the leaves off and it is illegal to feed those to your hens.
The reason is to prevent contamination with meat or or meat products. There is an exception to the kitchen scraps law – vegan households. However, to quote from the government web site:
There is a complete ban on using kitchen waste from non-vegan households and from catering waste containing products of animal origin. It is illegal to use catering waste from kitchens which handle meat, or vegetarian kitchens which may handle dairy products, eggs etc. This ban also includes catering waste from restaurants and commercial kitchens producing vegan food.
The reasoning behind the law on feeding kitchen waste to chickens
The reason for this legal madness is to prevent the chickens contracting a disease from contaminated food including meat products and passing it on. The Animal and Plant Health Agency state:
This is to prevent the introduction and spread of potentially devastating notifiable animal diseases, such as African and Classical Swine Fever, and Foot and Mouth disease. These diseases cause significant animal health and welfare problems and damage to the economy.
Does this make sense?
I really don’t think this law makes sense when applied to home and small scale poultry keepers. Back before we allowed the bureaucrats to rule us, it was usual to keep a mash bucket for the hens under the sink. Properly boiled up those potato peelings, stale bread and so forth went into the hens to be converted to nutritious eggs and valuable nitrogen-rich fertiliser.
Of course, there were sensible rules to follow for the hens’ health but for many years we managed without the full force of the law hanging over us.
Pigs and kitchen waste
The other animal that was commonly fed waste was, of course, the pig. The swill bin was a fixture of school and commercial kitchens. But this is now illegal. The Animal and Plant Health Agency say to support their reasoning:
The most likely source of the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak in 2001 was pigs being fed undercooked catering waste containing the virus which originated from outside the UK. The outbreak resulted in the destruction of more than 10 million cattle and sheep, with compensation running into many millions of pounds.
If I recall accurately the most likely reason was pigs being fed on undercooked catering waste that included illegally imported meat. So it wasn’t the catering waste as such – it was illegally imported meat and a failure to process the waste properly. Two failures that reinforced each other with catastrophic results.
If the infected meat hadn’t been illegally imported then we most probably would have been OK or if the waste had been properly processed we would have been fine.
It’s worth noting that the 2007 outbreak of foot and mouth disease was caused by poor bio-security procedures at the Pirbright laboratory.
Why ban kitchen waste in animal feeding?
After all, we didn’t ban viral research laboratories after the 2007 outbreak. One hopes bio-security was taken more seriously and better applied though.
The logical course of action after the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak would have been to look at better prevention of illegal meat imports whilst ensuring the safe handling of waste foodstuffs in the animal food chain.
The safe handling of waste foodstuffs to feed animals could have been accomplished by regulation and education. People are more likely to follow rules that they know, understand and agree with the reason for.
Instead we have a law that many home poultry keepers are not aware of and free discussion of feeding hens on scraps could be considered incitement to break the law. This is counter-productive as giving specific advice on safely treating waste food to feed pet hens, say on a poultry forum, risks legal action.
That’s a real risk, by the way. Not just theoretical. I’ve had menacing emails from official agencies for suggesting popping a few slug pellets in with stored potatoes as a ‘misuse of pesticide’.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency proudly say:
APHA and Trading Standards continue to find and investigate incidents where farmers and smallholders are illegally feeding pigs and poultry with catering waste, often because they are unaware of the disease risk posed to their livestock by giving them this type of food.
I’d suggest it’s far more sensible and safe for everyone for those farmers and smallholders to be feeding their livestock on scraps legally and openly rather than in secret. That way their processing methods could be checked and supported with advice
How is food waste handled now?
Some councils now separately collect food waste from households and much catering and supermarket waste food etc. ends up in biodigesters. Here the waste goes into a system that produces methane gas which is burnt to produce electricity that is sold into the grid.
To encourage biodigesters the government was paying a large subsidy to the owners. So the owners naturally disposed of wastes like slurry from dairy farms in the biodigesters and even started growing crops to digest!
The subsidy comes from the taxpayer and generally benefits those who were wealthy enough money to invest large amounts of money in the equipment.
Who benefits from the current law?
There is, of course, the argument that the law protects the farming industry from disease and changing it would be a grave risk to the economy and cost to the taxpayer.
The owners of biodigesters obviously benefit although the reduction of the government subsidies means there are not a great number of new ones coming on stream now.
The largest beneficiary has to be the animal feed industry. Buying and processing food waste for animal feed is of necessity distributed and small scale. Manufacturing and importing processed animal feed is ideal for large international corporations.
My opinion about feeding food waste to chickens and other livestock
My opinion is that the current law fails to protect the industry and the illegal feeding actually could be a greater risk. It technically criminalises home poultry keepers for following a practice that has been followed for hundreds of years.
I’d like to see the risks, if any, of feeding chickens and other livestock properly analysed and quantified by independent researchers. That is researchers not funded by businesses with vested interests or government agencies whose relationship with big businesses is far too cosy for my liking.
I have no faith in those agencies when they make sweeping statements of risk without openly publishing the research and logic that backs it up.
To me, feeding waste food to animals who turn it into high value edible food and high grade fertiliser makes perfect sense. Especially when carried out at a local level.
A version of this article appeared in Home Farmer Magazine.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Mike Eaton February 11th, 2018
In the first instance what you are showing with the “Oxo” family is a worse case scenario, before it gets to that stage the family would have had several visits slowly escalating depending on their actions from the previous visits. On the previous visits advice would have been given as required, a time limit would have been imposed for these actions to be carried out before a further visit is scheduled – the simple answer to this situation would be “do nowt, get a clout” – if however the people involved had been seen to try to do something – ask advice, look up the law and attempt to act in accordance with it, alter a few things to comply, as close as possible to the law and various requirements then the mythical “Oxo” family would be left alone to get on with their lives (they will no doubt get a further visit or two to ensure they are complying with the requirements). The same situation would apply to any owner of chickens up to the legal limit (I’m not sure how things stand on this I have not, as yet, studied the relevant legislation). Please remember the cornerstone of modern Health and Safety (of which this is part) is the Risk Assessment, therefore before getting anything unusual (in this case chickens) it is sensible to carry out a simple Risk Assessment into everything pertaining to the risks involved (carrying out a risk assessment is fairly simple and can be found on the HSE website). Not carrying out a risk assessment is, to put it simply, sheer folly. Oh and just to show how easy such a Risk Assessment is, we do one each time we cross the road – you’d get run over if you didn’t. The main difference between that “Dynamic Risk Assessment” and the one required here is that the one required is written down and retained. Finally I may also add that Health Inspectors are controlled by the local council, whilst Health and Safety (Factory) Inspectors are controlled by the HSE. Different agencies but in some ways covering the same subject.
2John Harrison February 12th, 2018
You have to allow me some dramatic licence you know!
More seriously; if the state has a power, how they enforce it is up to the state. I think the first three people extradited to the states under anti-terrorism legislation were bankers accused of financial crime. And yes, I do know some people would call bankers terrorists ?
The real point I’m making is that there is legislation that is probably counter-productive, benefits feed manufacturers, GM soya growers who devastate the Amazon and agri-business. The reasons they give as justification are glib and erroneous.
The large poultry people, with 20,30,50,000 birds in a shed and automated feed delivery systems wouldn’t consider anything small scale like recycling. It’s the home keepers and micro-suppliers who are impacted.
Most of the 500,000 to 750,000 home keepers really have pets with benefits and like to give their pets a treat. This law criminalises that act.
As for risk assessment – my contention is that criminalising this actually increases risk as it reduces the availability of knowledge of how to safely and correctly put waste food back into the food chain.
I know for a fact that a number of smallholders now avoid registration to keep under the radar. Not from greed but from a belief that they can better provide care and a painless end for their livestock. As one told me, his pigs had a good life and then bang it was over – not a stressful journey to a distant abattoir, waiting about terrified and then meeting their end at the end of a production line.
Incidentally, I’d rather trust my food from people I know who are outside the system than supermarket chains who pay lip service to quality and animal welfare because it’s good marketing whilst screwing down the suppliers so much they end up serving us horse-meat lasagne, fruit and veg with a cocktail of pesticides and eggs that contain traces of chemicals not even licensed for use on poultry.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions… I don’t believe the intentions behind this particular legislation (on feeding) are even good or properly thought out.
3Mike Eaton February 12th, 2018
John, of course but invariably artistic or dramatic licence invariably shows a “worse case scenario” and whilst there are those who consider the law to be a complete ass (at time I agree completely) there are many who are not sure and they are the people most affected by dramatised statements such as the poor old OxO family being RAM raided at breakfast time by a host of Health Inspectors! Lunch maybe but breakfast!
To move on, sadly the term Risk Assessment due to bad press (tis easy for so called comedians to get a laugh out of ‘elf and Safety, even without knowing much about it), having been demonized by the average music hall comedian your average “man in the street” comes along and because it’s been shown on TV believes it. Lets face it as mentioned a Risk Assessment is fairly easy and tis done every time we cross the road (good chance of getting run over if we just casually wander across the road with out looking (risk assessment) the only difference is that in this instance it is recorded. To be fair it does cover a lot of ground and “covers your a**” with the legal people, no matter the reason.
However I’m sure that a lot of small holders (those who actually check up on the law and carry out relevant risk assessments) avoid registration for many reasons – after all as you say below 50 chooks it is not required. Including those stated. As for trusting the dreaded Supermarket to supply anything that is safe, edible or tasteful, if you know anything about food in general (and this covers everybody who subscribes to these forums) you will avoid them as much as possible. Yes I admit i use one, about once a month for certain cheapo basics that are difficult to obtain elsewhere.
As for your final statement concerning a certain road – totally agree on that one, but like a lot of legislation it is about control of the masses rather than any good intentions towards them! And that’ll get my wrist slapped good and proper!
4John Harrison February 12th, 2018
People generally are very ill equipped to risk assess – for example, they worry about the dangers of flying (very low risk) as they drive to the airport without a care (higher risk) If the state wishes to impose rules to control risk, it is important that the risk is real and significant. Nuclear power is a good example – the risk of a major accident is very low but the significance of a major accident (Chernobyl) is huge.
Interference by the state has had massive effects on small scale food producers. Not just on poultry and livestock but also on vegetable growers. Back in the 1970’s the National List was instituted on seed varieties, effectively wiping out varieties that were deemed to be the same but with a different name. Many of those varieties were similar but had small, significant differences but the costs involved of getting on the list were prohibitive. There have been serious proposals to make the sharing of seeds illegal.
Then we have the de-listing of chemical controls, such as Ammonium Sulphamate & Derris. AS is an effective weedkiller, very simple in its action and safe. It degrades on contact with the air into Sulphate of Ammonia – a nitrogen fertiliser. Extremely useful for clearing weeds like horsetail. The approved chemical for that is a complex hormonal pesticide. Derris is a natural product, used for many, many years without causing harm (except to blackfly and other aphids). The evidence behind the de-listing was flimsy. Who benefited from these actions? DOW, Monsanto etc.
Who really benefits from banning the (correct) use of waste food for feeding livestock?
5Mike Eaton February 12th, 2018
Short and simple – the government is the only beneficiary, and why? Because they can then be seen to “be doing something” by the general public.
Sadly the general public, after an initial show of enthusiasm just want’s to get on with their own lives, as long as something is “seen to be done” by those in authority and they don’t have to do anything other than sit and whinge! Neither do they actually check to see if anything has been done except for this particular incident – witness the number of times after something happens there is a general “hue and cry” for a new law, even though there are already adequate laws to control most things within the country – in fact we are overburdened with pointless laws for example the majority of laws covering the subject under discussion. Without checking (General public rule one – can’t be bothered) I’m sure these particular rules have been produced after some such incident that in the short term has affected several members of the public! Following the standard hue and cry somebody in authority has said – “better do something or we’ll have some trouble”! Thus a new S.I. (statutory instrument – posh for quick fix law) is quickly brought out and put into use. There have over the years been many such happenings.
6Doctor Hilary Jones February 12th, 2018
But hens don’t get foot and mouth disease!
7John Harrison February 12th, 2018
Of course hens don’t get foot and mouth – that’s because feeding them on scraps is banned!!!! ? Yep, I’m being silly again. More seriously, it’s typical distraction in government info.
8John Scutter March 17th, 2018
Our country needs proper border and customs controls in order to prevent the illegal importation of meat and effective punishment of those people who break the law. The government should also to take steps to ensure that legally imported meat does not pose any risk from pathogens.
9Mike Eaton March 17th, 2018
Easy to say but like a lot of things whilst the thought is brilliant the execution leasves a lot to be desired for many reasons however this thread is not about imports or exports but about smallholders and cottagers feeding scraps to their chickens. Neither scraps nor chickens will (normally) leave the area they are in. On this I believe we need to look elsewhere. Incidentally there is a well known American Smallhold who boasts on his web page etc that he feeds half a dozen chickens for free – all with household scraps, so it would seem that it is to my mind control for controls sake! I could add that during the WWII years it would have been harder to survive without feeding kitchen waste to certain farm animals!
10John Harrison March 17th, 2018
Picking up on your comment Mike regarding WW2 – in urban areas the councils provided bins on street corners for people to put their food waste. This was processed and supplied to feed livestock – poultry and pigs. The regulations on recycling were pretty draconian and whilst there were weekly bin collections, many only contained ashes from coal fires, The days before we ‘needed’ plastic packaging.
In WW2 the poultry keepers could obtain ‘balancer rations’ which were designed to complement the scraps and keep the hens laying healthily.
11Mike Eaton March 17th, 2018
Aye John but to be fair that carried on well after that war, I can remember the use of the “pig bin” well into the 50’s if not the 60’s! What I’m trying to say is the main point of this thread – why? It was done before so why not carry it on? The reply is not “because scientist have found . . . . . ” please remember scientists have also found that in a lot of cases the old “wives tales” are funnily enough very true!” Bit of an awkward isn’t it?
12John Harrison March 18th, 2018
You’re right Mike. I’ve been researching the dig for victory campaigns and how food supplies were handled in the second world war for a new book. Some of the practices from those dark days could be usefully adopted today. The culture of ‘waste not, want not’ and ‘make do and mend’ for starters. As I said above, draconian regulations against waste but – and it’s a big but – the people understood and agreed with the reasoning behind those laws. The government didn’t just impose the rules, they explained and helped people to follow them.
13Mike Eaton March 18th, 2018
Agree with that John, in actual fact even today some Rules and Regulations are still explained by various related government agencies, mostly the ones that need to be complied with. Those that don’t just have a new set of S.I.s produced and left for people to get on with. My take is if the inspector or whoever bothers to explain and gives you a warning then tis important. If he (or she) doesn’t I’m not to bothered – OK now I’m a Pensioner I just don’t bother anymore!
Good luck with the book, a fasinating period to study, on both sides and as an aside the term “Make and Mend” is still referred to in the Royal Navy as an afternoon off work generally to enable the ships company to engage in making and mending various personal items – clothes etc.
14Theresa Munson March 18th, 2018
it all boils down to litigation and where blame is placed ultimately. They don’t really care, they just want to be seen to be doing something about it, so that the blame for any outbreak of anything that might affect humans is removed from the government.
15Mike Eaton March 18th, 2018
Theresa, you are probably closer to the truth with that statement than anything else that has been said! Frightening thought but these days that is thway most things are run – it goes wrong and who do we blame? is the cry – not so much what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again or how can we help those in trouble but who to blame – sad world isn’t it?