Feed technology group formed

by Meyer Sosland
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In Europe, where the purse strings in agriculture are controlled from Brussels, Belgium and the needs of agriculture are frequently repeated across many of the 27 European Union (E.U.) member states, a new group aims to help the feed industry speak with one voice on research.

The European Feed Technology Center (EUFETEC) brings together industry, association and researchers to solve the technical problems facing the feed industry.

"The initiative is Belgian, and it was taken by the Belgian feed manufacturers, BEMEFA, who were thinking about a European technical centre," Professor Mia Eeckhout of the University Association of Ghent told World Grain.

But the whole objective was to involve other bodies. "To be European, you need to have a lot of other stakeholders, research bodies and other federations involved," she said.

That included, for example, the E.U. Feed Additives and Premixtures Association (FEFANA) and the European Feed Manufacturers Association (FEFAC). The members of EUFETEC include European and national associations like BEMEFA and FEFANA, while FEFAC has observer status. There are also representatives of the academic community.

"There are eight or nine countries in it already," Eeckhout said. "Some of them have universities involved. For example, in the Netherlands it is Wageningen, and in the U.K. it is Nottingham. In Italy it is Piacenza. We are the University Association of Ghent."

The research centres, TECALIMAN in France and the International Research Association of Feed Technology (IFF) in Germany, have also been identified as key stakeholders. More countries and more institutions are getting involved.

"We are talking to INRA (The French National Institute for Animal Research) and other people involved with feed technology, but in a very broad sense," Eeckhout said. "There’s a lot to do on the technology. They are ambitious. There’s a lot of research going on, for example, on the environmental problems of animal production, human health and the safety of food.

"There is a need for research all over the European countries. We know that to get research you have to get financed."

The aim of EUFETEC is to improve the industry’s access to sources of funding at European level.

The feed sector has huge economic importance for the E.U. According to EUFETEC, in 2005 five million E.U. farmers raised livestock worth €129 billion ($166 billion). For those farmers, the 470 million tonnes of animal feed they used were the most significant cost factor in their business. They bought 145 million tonnes of compound feed worth €37 billion ($48.1 billion). The feed sector employs around 100,000 people in some 4,000 plants, not including pet food.

Eeckhout believes that working with national governments and European policymakers can get the industry’s voice heard at the E.U. level. "It would enhance everything that is now happening around feed," she said.

Eeckhout quoted residue levels as one key area for Europe-wide research. "If you have animal feed production, feed is at the base of this. For instance, you have a lot of food products from the food industry that can be used for feed, or things around biofuels from cereals and canola," she said. "You have the problem of what to do with the byproducts. You need research on safety."

Research is needed to learn more about how animals can pass on any harmful material. "It’s not the animal which causes all this, it’s the contaminated feed and the animal that causes it," Eeckhart said.

To establish priorities, the founders of EUFETEC sent out a questionnaire, first to companies in Belgium and then to other European companies, she said. "We gathered the results from 300 manufacturers who filled in the questionnaire. From this questionnaire we got a list of priorities which showed that in the whole of Europe we have the same problems, the same need for research."

A clear picture emerged. "The first priority was for research on the transmission residues from feed to animals to milk and meat," she said. "There are European maximum residue levels. Sometimes they are zero."

However, effective modern analysis techniques meant that it was often impossible to reach absolute zero levels. "In Europe, producers think that it’s a very good idea to understand the transmission of residue levels," Eeckhart said.

Although analysis has become more effective, there is still a need for more research on it. "Most of the methods available now take a lot of time and are not cheap," she said. "We need something that works on intake."

At the Sept. 15 launch of EUFETEC, Kris Peeters, minister-president of Belgium’s Flemish region as well as its minister for Institutional Reform, Ports, Agriculture, Sea Fisheries and Policy, stressed the need for cross-border work on science and innovation. "What we do together we do better," he said. "The creation of one platform which combines the academic world, research centers and industry can already offer half a solution to the problems the sector has to cope with.

"We have high expectations about the EUFETEC as the feed sector is faced with enormous challenges. Food safety, sustainability and pricing problems are heading this list."

Belgian Federal Agriculture Minister Sabine Laruelle also welcomed the setting up of EUFETEC. In a speech presented on her behalf at the launch, she stressed the need to combine health, safety and quality of food. "I am convinced that our industries and our researchers possess an indisputably high quality and dynamism," she said. "But they still have to get the best conditions to express themselves. In that spirit, the setting up of EUFETEC represents a progress in the good direction."

Laruelle said the animal feed sector represents an essential pillar of the food chain. "It holds indeed a prominent place in the safety and quality of food products of animal origin," she said. "It is of the utmost importance that all the operators concerned have the opportunity to have access to, and to take advantage of, the results of research efforts and of technological improvements which are essential for their development." WG

Chris Lyddon is World Grain’s European editor. He may be contacted at: chris.lyddon@ntlworld.com.