Companies in the industry are seen to be taking on new educational roles aimed at informing, and sometimes alerting, not only their customers in the sector, but a wider and more general public, about what needs to be done to achieve long term food supply for a growing global population.
On the occasion of last month’s 4th World Nutrition Forum (WNF) held in Salzburg, Austria, over 700 delegates from over 70 countries united to share their knowledge on the key industry trends and on the main scientific developments impacting today’s and tomorrow’s market place.
Organised by Biomin, it can be argued that the WNF took place at a crucial time for the animal nutrition sector. Indeed, the industry is recovering from the global financial downturn and, at the same time, confronted with multiple tasks in the race to achieve sustainability targets. Players are seeking to clearly identify the main challenges ahead and are studying the most promising opportunities to meet that goal whilst increasing their productivity and profitability. In such a scenario, information is key, and so is the opportunity to share it. This was one of the messages communicated in Salzburg.
Erich Erber, Biomin’s Founder and Chairman, during the WNF said: “Coming out of this period of recession, the future development of the market has become an issue of greater importance than ever. We want to provide useful insights with regards to the dynamics in current market developments and identify and substantiate our findings on industry trends”.
Also during the WNF, Biomin introduced its latest programme, called NutriEconomics®, which was designed to raise efficiency by concentrating on effective nutritional strategies, good business practice and sustainable resource use.
Shortly after the Forum, Feedinfo News Service organised a roundtable meeting with some of the event’s key participants and with the organisers themselves to discuss some of the main themes that were debated in Salzburg.
Feedinfo News Service spoke to Erich Erber and Franz Waxenecker, Director of Biomin’s Development Department; as well as Dr. Alfonso Mireles, Manager of Turkey Nutrition Programmes at Foster Farms (USA); Steve Auman, Director Business Development, Feed Products at PCS Sales Inc. (USA); Dr. Felicia Wu, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Pittsburgh (USA); and Gordon Butland, Director of G&S Agriconsult (UK).
[Feedinfo News Service] The World Nutrition Forum, which was held in Salzburg, has ended. As active participants in this widely-attended event, what ideas or themes were of particular interest to you? What attracted you to this event and what will you be discussing with your colleagues upon your return home?
[Gordon Butland] I have to say that forums involving feed issues and animal health issues are an important source of information on future trends and on the key issues affecting the end product.
The theme of “expect the unexpected” was particularly interesting as we have had to face so many over the last 10 years. At the WNF, I indicated that there is a fair chance that something “unexpected” will occur and companies must have a formal crisis management procedure in place. Also the European and American emphasis on the environment and carbon footprint will have to be taken on board by those companies or countries that desire to export.
[Steve Auman] I was delighted to accept Biomin’s invitation to share my views on the future of agriculture and feed/food technology.
I was also especially interested in finding out about mycotoxin/aflatoxin standards and control measures, as well as about GHG emissions from animal agriculture, and working with developing countries.
[Alfonso Mireles] I was honoured to be asked to give a presentation on poultry nutritionalimmuno-modulation.
The WNF was also a wonderful opportunity to learn from the many valuable presentations, share information, and meet with many of the world leaders in the animal industry. I had an opportunity to learn about the swine industry, genetics, aquaculture, and ruminant nutrition. I learned we all face many of the same problems, challenges, and opportunities.
Director of G&S Agriconsult
[Felicia Wu] I came to the World Nutrition Forum at the invitation of Biomin when we I met company representatives at the 2009 International Society of Mycotoxicology meeting in Tulln, Austria. I also read the proceedings of the 2008 WNF and was intrigued by them and was eager to learn more about animal nutrition and to contribute my own knowledge regarding mycotoxins.
One theme that I have already been discussing with colleagues at home is how much easier it is to add ingredients to animal feed than it is to human food. Biomin, to my knowledge, faces relatively less regulatory pressure in selling an animal feed additive that can sequester mycotoxins and improve animal health. But if we tried to add something similar to human food, we would face all sorts of regulatory hurdles anywhere in the world, not just the United States. This is tragic, given that human mycotoxicoses are still a significant problem in many less developed countries worldwide and that food additives could be a relatively cost-effective way to reduce adverse health impacts.
[Feedinfo News Service] Mr. Erber and Mr. Waxenecker, the World Nutrition Forum was also an occasion for Biomin to present its NutriEconomics concept. A number of agribusiness companies have been in touch with Feedinfo News Service in the past to share the merits of their sustainability actions. What makes Biomin's NutriEconomics special? Can you tell me “how it works”?
Founder & Chairman, Biomin
[Erich Erber] As the name indicates the NutriEconomic Concept combines the economic measurement of nutrition with the measurement of the carbon footprint of the products used in feed formulations. It is the first time in our industry that such an approach has been developed. The lively discussion during the WNF has shown the importance and interest in the question of GHG emissions caused by animal production. NutriEconomics is a handy tool that helps to make conscious decisions on feed formulation based on economic and environmental parameters.
[Franz Waxenecker] Let me add that NutriEconomics stands for sustainable animal nutrition and is based on three pillars. These three pillars represent social, economical and environmental sustainability. In contrast to other sustainability programmes, which focus mainly on environmental issues like global warming, NutriEconomics takes more factors into consideration, such as nutrition, economics and environment.
The efficiency of NutriEconomics is simply measured by Return on Investment. For the nutritional pillar, we have a return on energy, protein and nutrients, which is today expressed as feed conversion ratio. For the economic pillar, we have the more traditional return on investment. And for the environmental pillar, this could be a “return on emissions”. From our own Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), that Biomin feed additives have the potential to save up to 100 times more GHG emission compared to the emission they create.
[Feedinfo News Service] Given that feed costs constitute the main expense in animal production, it was quite natural that a lot of the talks in Salzburg focused on optimizing animal performance via nutrition. There was a general impression that, be it swine or poultry, feed formulation is not carried out in the same way from one herd/flock to another even in same geographies. What can be done to make sure that poultry or swine nutritionists are on the same wavelength?
[Alfonso Mireles] While there are many similarities among the many poultry and swine nutritionists from many areas of the world, there are still many differences in growing practices, markets, and ingredient availability. Feed formulation, therefore, needs to be tailored to each specific market and region. The basics, however, are the same for everybody. At the end of the day we all share the same goals to optimize performance at the lowest possible cost while keeping animal welfare in mind.Communication is the key.Industry members need to have the opportunity to share ideas and concerns. Conferences such as the WNF are a good example of how this can be accomplished.
[Franz Waxenecker] The livestock industry is, in many ways, exposed to global markets and trends: prices for animal products, prices for raw materials and feedstuffs, consumer behaviour and legal restraints. This makes the nutritionist’s work more and more comparable worldwide and makes the following principle valid for all nutritionists: “The better animal performance, the better profitability”.
Cost saving, as it is practiced with linear optimization programmes, is considered as only one aspect of the efficiency question. Improving performance and output of livestock systems is from today’s point of view the most efficient way to increase profitability in livestock production.
[Feedinfo News Service] Low productivity occurs in the absence of balanced nutrition and contributes to poor animal health. This is of particular concern to poultry and livestock production in under-developed nations. The use of feed additives enables better productivity and feed safety. How can you make the local smallholders aware of this?
[Alfonso Mireles] Feed additives, such as antibiotics and coccidiostats, do indeed help productivity and food safety. These products, however, are only part of the solution. Basic animal husbandry, biosecurity, and preventive medicine training must be emphasized first. Again, communication is the key. There is a strong need to deliver training to these nations. We all need to get involved through economic and technical support.
[Felicia Wu] Indeed, it is a challenge to make local smallholders aware of problems such as mycotoxins, because they may not have much underlying knowledge of mycotoxins at all. Therefore, first you would need to educate them on mycotoxins, and then you would need to explain why the feed additive is worthwhile. In other words, it is a two-step approach at least. Finally, you must find a way to make the feed additive affordable and readily available, which is not by any means an easy task in less developed countries.
Director, Biomin Development Department
[Franz Waxenecker] I would refer to the saying “Profitability creates awareness”. This is only true in a totally transparent world. With a global sales network and the use of modern communication tools, we try to spread out our message to all livestock producers worldwide.
[Feedinfo News Service] Quality feed, of course, plays an important role in reducing animal stress, which in turn helps towards better performance. So what can be done to communicate this hedonistic message to nutritionists worldwide? How can we get to a situation whereby animal protein producers and nutritionists are totally aware of the importance of optimized stress reduction management practices?
[Alfonso Mireles] Quality in feed is not easy to define. We need to reduce nutrient variability, improve pellet quality, minimize anti-nutritional factors, eliminate toxins, and deliver nutritionally balanced diets. Good feed quality, of course, reduces stress, but there are so many other forms of stress that farm animals face.
Dr. Alfonso Mireles
Manager - Turkey Nutrition Programmes, Foster Farms
More practical research is needed as to how different forms of stress affect performance, and what can be done to minimize this stress. The visual impact of stress is only the beginning. Metabolically, simple stresses such as handling of an animal go way beyond making an animal uncomfortable.
We need to fully understand how these forms of stress affect animal metabolism and lead to significant losses of performance and body composition. It is, therefore, very important to continue to study and present and publish these results to the industry.
[Franz Waxenecker] I would like to add that events like the World Nutrition Forum create awareness to important topics like stress reduction management. We must pursue similar initiatives and communication efforts.
[Feedinfo News Service] Dr. Mireles, in your presentation, you highlighted the importance of teaching immunology to future nutritionists. You said: "The job of commercial poultry nutritionists ends only after the bird has been consumed". Can you tell us a little more why this is an important matter?
[Alfonso Mireles] Most nutritionists know very little about immunology and most immunologists do not understand nutrition. Yet, nutrition and immunology are completely inter-related. One depends on the other. It is not enough to deliver and deposit nutrients, in the form of animal tissues. Traditional nutrition training often ended when the nutrients were digested, absorbed, and deposited. Nutrients, however, can be catabolized just as soon as they are deposited – this is typically the case when an immune response is triggered. Thus, all the work a nutritionist has done can be quickly nullified by an immune response.
Nutritionists, therefore, need to work with, manage, and manipulate an immune response to make sure the nutrients that we work so hard to deliver stay there. Deposited nutrients have the potential of being destroyed all the way up to the time the bird is consumed. A strong immune response can do that.
[Feedinfo News Service] It is one thing to communicate the sustainable animal production message to developed nations. However, it seems like a very different and difficult task to expand this model to developing or under-developed nations. In your opinion, what will be the next logistical steps and investment efforts to encourage domestic production in these markets (which will be even more densely populated) with the aim to achieve sustainable food security there?
[Steve Auman] First, the farmer has to have access to markets where he can purchase raw materials and sell his products for a profit. Second, this requires a platform of social policies that support the feed industry (roads, warehouses, electricity, water…), promote information exchange (workshops), and encourage business investment. Forming a local feed cooperative or feed association is the way to act with one voice to recommend needed policies to government officials and to invite outside agencies and commercial companies to provide training on best management practices and new technologies.
[Gordon Butland] As we have seen from the aggressive audience response to the topic of life cycle calculations, this will be a difficult task. Where countries export (Brazil, China, Thailand) pressure can be applied, but purely domestic producers will be reluctant to add costs especially as many already have very high material costs.
[Erich Erber] As we showed in our presentations, it is a fact that the more intensive the production is, the better the economics is, and the lower the animal agriculture GHG emissions are. In the developing world it is definitely food security that is the main priority. Yet the better the production performance, the cheaper the production will become.
As a good example, I can refer to my recent business trip in Ghana. I learnt that to produce 1kg of tilapia in that country the costs are approximately three times higher than in Thailand. What we need to do is to bring the expertise and investment from such countries. A so called “south to south” cooperation must be fostered.
At the same time, in many developing countries, the red tape, investment barriers and corruption are the real obstacles that need to be removed first. I am sure that the industry will follow willingly if the climate for investment is secure in these developing countries.
[Feedinfo News Service] Mr. Auman, you have just argued that, in under-developed nations, there needs to be a local or national feed association to drive the programmes and interact down to the farm level. Industry and non-government organizations can also form cooperative relationships with these local feed associations. Have you seen any progress made?
[Steve Auman] There has been a lot of progress. The International Feed Industry Federation has members that include national feed associations and commercial feed ingredient and complete feed producers. It represents 90% of global commercial feed production. The IFIF recently helped in the formation of the Latin American Feed Association with its member, the Brazilian Feed Association (Sindiracoes) leading the effort. Moreover, the African Feed Manufacturers Association is a member of IFIF and is actively seeking to form feed associations in other African countries including Ghana and Kenya.
The FAO, meanwhile, is collaborating with IFIF for animal production information and technology transfer strategic development, which will include regional workshops and forums. These workshops and forums will be sponsored by local feed associations and be directed to the small stakeholder farmers. Trainers will come from FAO, feed associations and the feed industry. This is a strategy whereby an information/communication bridge can be built between small stakeholder farmers in developing countries and large commercial farms and feed ingredient suppliers in developing countries. We are off to an exciting start, one that is sustainable long term because it is win-win.
[Feedinfo News Service] We have mentioned transport costs, unreliable electricity supply, high input costs for farmers, lack of infrastructure, harsh weather conditions, poverty and health situation, lack of education... These are some of the reasons why there are few investment initiatives in under-developed markets. Companies are also waiting for solid signs of increased animal protein consumption in these regions before investing. Yes securing food security in the long term is important, but given these conditions, does it make financial sense for companies to invest there now?
[Gordon Butland] It only makes sense when countries have large populations and growing incomes. In those countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh or Indonesia the tendency will be for local investment together with technical assistance from suppliers (genetics, feed, equipment).
Director Business Development, Feed Products - PCS Sales Inc.
[Erich Erber] Without a stable framework that gives at least a minimum of security for the investors and staff no transfer of knowhow and capital will take place on a large scale. A good example could be Mozambique, which has now received quite a bit of investment and, after 20 years of civil war, the population can feed itself again. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, which has much better production conditions, people depend on foreign aid for food. I am sure that there are enough entrepreneurs who are willing to transfer know-how and investments to under-developed or developing countries when politics will allow the establishment of an environment that is stable and accountable.
[Steve Auman] In my opinion, it would be a mistake for a company to invest in a country where the local social policies do not encourage sustainable food production practices.Without profit, the farmer has no incentive to grow food for others.
[Feedinfo News Service] What about raw material trade? The increase in trade of raw materials to the developing nations would help secure more supplies of feedstuffs. However, it can be anticipated that there will be more trade disputes, especially involving large importers who have a lot of bargaining power. What are your messages to these large importers to urge them to be less "greedy" and think about the longer-term picture of global food security?
[Erich Erber] It might prove difficult to tell the markets not to be greedy and not to think of their own short term profit. For me, it will require more political control and regulation to make sure that there is enough food and feed material for everyone. Ethanol production from corn in the US or from wheat in the EU will not be able to compete with sugar cane but distorts the price of corn for feed manufacturing. Moreover, to stop wheat exports from Russia just to allow a few big traders to declare force majeure is something that simply sends the wrong message to the user and consumers. Food security can be achieved with higher yields and better production techniques. However, politicians need to ensure that this can take place with the least disturbance possible.
[Steve Auman] Again, trade and sufficient feed supplies (food security) will come with profit.Whether a country decides to develop local feed ingredients or rely on imports, there must be a profit for the farmer. The local farmer is the one who defines the local market and whether or not it has anything to bargain for. The local feed association or cooperative can give the farmer a lot of leverage in this regard.
[Gordon Butland] I would like to stress that this is mostly a ‘European’ issue, especially a UK issue. There does seem to be very little desire on the part of supermarkets to consider the exporting country. Their main objective is to provide cheap food for the home consumer.
[Feedinfo News Service] To have better control of nutrient supply and nutrient requirements, it is better to have an integrated approach, which some bigger companies can adopt due to their size and presence in all stages of the farm-to-fork chain. Surely, smaller companies or farmers of the developing nations cannot have full control as the larger companies do. Do you think that these smaller companies and farmers will be in difficulty? What do you recommend?
[Gordon Butland] This is indeed the big challenge. As I told attendees at the WNF, there are over 157 countries that consume a little over 10% of global animal protein and have over 1 billion people. How the “input” suppliers (genetics, animal health) will supply materials and knowledge to the large number of countries/companies has to be well thought through and FAO support in education programmes is a must.
[Steve Auman] If local social policies are favourable, feed associations or cooperatives can give local farmers the power to offset their size. Not only do they have more buying power, but they can access technology to use local ingredients to their advantage while gaining market information about international standards, volume, and price.
[Erich Erber] Smaller players will always have a problem to reach economics of scale. However, they can cooperate in integrated ways. For instance, corn growers can contract their corn to feed mills and they can contract production to certain farms.
[Feedinfo News Service] Dr. Wu, more quantities of DDGS are being produced, especially in developed markets, and this can be viewed as increasing the risk of mycotoxin contamination. At the same time, developing markets and/or under-developed markets are seeing more mould problems caused by climate change. Can you explain why the mycotoxin problem is a growing and global problem? What would you say are the most effective solutions to reduce mycotoxin contamination in crops and in feed?
Dr. Felicia Wu
Assistant Professor of Environmental & Occupational Health, University of Pittsburgh
[Felicia Wu] We cannot say with absolute certainty that the mycotoxin problem is "growing." There are, indeed, forces that are increasing the risk, such as the growing use of DDGS in animal feed and the potential impacts of climate change on aflatoxin and fumonisin concentrations in food and feed crops. However, mycotoxin control strategies are also being developed and adopted at even faster rates. It remains to be seen how the mycotoxin problem will change in the future.
There is no one most effective method to reduce mycotoxin contamination in crops and feed. A combination of strategies is required: good agricultural practices, good manufacturing practices, plant breeding (both conventional and transgenic), good storage conditions, certain additives... All of these reduce the risk at different levels and it is impossible to choose a "winner" among them.
[Feedinfo News Service] How do you see genomics and farm automation improving meat production? Are you in favour of the US large-scale feedlot model to ensure better control?
[Alfonso Mireles] Genomics and manipulation of genetic material through the use of genetic engineering has a huge potential to improve meat production. In the past, traditional animal selection always had the potential of carrying bad traits along with good ones – we select birds for fast growth and we bring with it gluttony and immune-suppression, for example. Genetic engineering eliminates those issues by selecting only the good traits.
US large scale, for better or worse, is the way to go. By having the economies of scale, we minimize risks by automating and systematically incorporating safety controls and quality assurance, and optimizing technical knowhow that small producers could not afford on their own.
[Gordon Butland] I am looking to genomics to reduce significantly the problems of diseases such as Newcastle and Avian Influenza in the not too distant future and this will eliminate the main “disaster” scenarios.
[Erich Erber] I would like to point out that every size of production has its limits when it comes to environmental concerns. However, in terms of bio-security and production security I do feel that multi-site production, even in larger integrations is still a more secure bet.
[Steve Auman] In developing countries, I would say that farm automation can be adapted to small scale commercial farms assuming power and water availability, but ingredient formulation may be limited by laboratory capability. Genomics come into play where diets are nutritionally balanced and good management practices applied on the farm. Local breeds may be more tolerant of local dietary ingredients, nutritional variance, and resistant to disease. Also, local consumer tastes may prefer local breeds rather than many commercial breeds.
[Feedinfo News Service] In conclusion, Mr. Erber and Mr. Waxenecker, we have talked about industry trends. Have you seen any trend changes in the natural growth promoter sector?
[Franz Waxenecker] There is a clear trend into antibiotic free feeding concepts, driven by legal restraints and – maybe more importantly – by the retailers and the food industry. Natural growth promoters are of course benefitting from this. Beyond that, the recognition and scientific knowhow in the field of natural growth promotion has increased significantly after 15 years of research. Today, we not only know about the growth promoting potential of probiotics, phytogenics and acidifiers, but we also know how and where in the animals´ metabolism these natural growth promoters work.
[Erich Erber] On that, I remember many years ago in Taiwan and Korea we started to talk about the benefits of natural growth promoters and nobody wanted to listen. Now Korea is going to ban all antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) as of 1 July 2011 and that is also the new reality in many other markets. In the US many restaurant chains have already requested that their suppliers stick to a non-AGP rule. The trend in the developed world is definitely going in the direction of an APG ban. And, with increased spending power and being the voice of the market, this is going to be more and more the norm.