After farmers feeding raw and rotting meat to pigs caused a massive outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, the European Union banned the use of swill—or human food waste—for feeding pigs, Modern Farmer reports. This has turned out to be a bad decision for both the environment and the pigs themselves, according to a University of Cambridge study published in Food Policy. A press release on the study states the EU produces 21.5 million tons of pork every year. Since farmers are no longer feeding swill to their pigs, their food has to be grown somewhere—and that somewhere is increasingly the Amazon rainforest. The study estimates returning pigs to a swill-based diet would save 1.8 million hectares of land—250,000 of them in the Amazon.
Furthermore, the study found a return to swill would be a boon to the EU pork industry by cutting the land necessary to raise pigs by more than 21% and the cost of feeding them by 50%. And—surprisingly—swill is a more natural diet for pigs than the soybeans and grains they're getting now, Modern Farmer notes. "Pigs are omnivorous animals," the study's lead researcher says in the press release. "In the wild they would eat anything they could forage for, from vegetable matter to other animal carcasses, and they have been fed food waste since they were domesticated by humans 10,000 years ago." The study advocates for the EU to follow the lead of East Asian countries, which heat swill until it's safe for pigs to eat. That would also solve the problem of what to do with the human food waste currently piling up. (This woman faces jail because she gave water to thirsty pigs.)