Animals at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo are now getting much of their daily bread, literally, along with tofu sediment and several kinds of fish, courtesy of food producers looking for a cheap disposal route for unwanted goods.
The trend started two years ago after a food recycling law came into force, compelling businesses to recycle 20 percent of their food waste by fiscal 2006.
“Bread crust and bean curd lees became a target of such recycling,” said an official at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.
The zoo welcomes the contributions because they help feed the animals, reduce operating costs and help preserve the environment through food recycling.
A Tokyo sandwich maker drops off about 200 kg of bread crust at the zoo twice a week — enough for almost all the zoo’s animals, especially the birds and primates.
Norio Nakajima, a breeder at the zoo, said that no longer having to buy bread has saved the facility about 2 million yen a year.
Every morning and midday, a tofu maker in the area drops off the residue left behind when the liquid is drained off the bean curd.
Zoo officials said the hippopotamuses in particular have acquired a taste for the healthy tofu byproduct, which resembles wet sawdust.
But not all well-intentioned food deliveries have proved beneficial.
Last winter, for example, 30 farmed salmon were sent to the zoo from Niigata Prefecture after their eggs were removed, but zoo officials said the fish were too lean to be used as feed.
Colorful carp have also become feed at the Crested Ibis Conservation Center on Sado Island because only a small number of the fish can be commercialized, namely those with prized colors, patterns and shapes.
Less marketable carp can wind up as a zoo animal’s lunch.
Periodic culls of native fish species, including black bass and bluegill, have also been used as feed.
A Nagano prefectural experimental fishery station provides the zoo with such fish caught in Lake Nojiri before being frozen.
“Their disposal costs money, so we hope they can be eaten by (the zoo) animals,” a station official said.
The zoo, however, is deciding whether frozen fish feed has a future.
“The trouble is a lack of space to keep feed frozen,” Nakajima said. “We are still doing trials, and next up is investigating whether there are nutritional differences compared with traditional types of feed.”
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