The Future of Feed: Into the Spotlight

by Stormy Wylie
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For years, the animal feed industry operated in a state of relative anonymity. Outside of those who worked in the industry and in animal agriculture, hardly anyone paid much attention to feed — especially not consumers.

"People ate meat, milk and eggs and didn't know, or care, how these products got to the table," said David Bossman, president of the American Feed Industry Association, Arlington, Virginia, U.S. "What the steer, hog or chicken ate was of no concern to them, and even less interest."

But a new, public visibility in recent years, as a result of heightened media coverage of food-borne illnesses and genetically modified food, has thrust the worldwide feed industry into the spotlight. While many might view that light as an uncomfortable glare, this newfound visibility does allow the industry to communicate its side of the safe-food story, according to Mr. Bossman, representing the American feed industry, and Pat Lake, president of the European Feed Manufacturers Association (FEFAC), based in Brussels, Belgium.

"This new visibility is the single most significant change the industry faces today," Mr. Bossman said at A.F.I.A.'s Key Management Conference earlier this year in Tucson, Arizona, U.S. "In just a few years, the feed industry has gone from one that held essentially no interest for consumers for most of the past century to one that, as events of the past few years have demonstrated, is now perhaps the highest profile component of the food production process."

In March 1996, an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (B.S.E., also known as "mad cow" disease) in England — believed to have been caused by adding rendered animal parts to feed — resulted in several human deaths and decimated the British cattle industry. The following year came the news of dioxin contamination in poultry. In 1998, E. coli was found in hamburger in the United States, and stories about poor waste management practices at swine facilities made front-page news. Last year there were claims of dioxins and organochlorine pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (P.C.B.'s) in meat in Belgium, stories in France about feeding sewage sludge to animals and headlines about "Frankenfoods" (a reference to genetically modified food) in newspapers and magazines around the world.

"All of these news stories are feed-related and, regardless of whether the reporting was accurate or not, have created a loss of confidence in our food supply, particularly in animal proteins," Mr. Bossman said.

"When television news programs, daily newspapers around the world and even the future king of England talk about the feed industry and the ingredients it uses, we are no longer the hidden link in the food chain," he added. "What we do suddenly matters — and matters a lot — to the public we serve."

Add to that the influence of the Internet, which is filled with negative food-safety stories and "outlandish rumors," Mr. Bossman said, and it becomes obvious that the feed industry faces an enormous challenge convincing increasingly skeptical consumers that they are being provided the safest, healthiest, most abundant and affordable food in the world.

"Meeting this challenge requires that all segments of the animal protein food chain — from farm to fork — understand the economic reality of what it takes to turn seed into grain, grain into feed, feed into animal, animal into human food," Mr. Bossman said. "It means embracing technology that will help the industry, and being ready with the facts when critics attack that technology."

The industry must take the lead in educating the public about the global benefits of a modern and efficient feed industry, he added, starting with the ecological benefits of turning nutrient-rich byproducts of the baking, brewing and milling industries into high-quality animal feed.

STRONG SCIENCE. The feed industry also must work to ease the public's fear of biotechnology, Mr. Bossman said. "We have to find ways to convince consumers that new technologies, including biotechnologies, are wonderful and safe and are being used in positive ways to feed the world as it demands more animal protein," he said.

Although biotechnology helps diagnose disease, produce vaccines and improve feed ingredients, the correlation between these scientific advances and the world's ability to feed itself "has yet to be truly understood by the public," he said. To offset negative stories about biotechnology, the feed industry must deliver a positive, accurate, science-based message to the public, he explained.

A strong, science-based message was used to defuse the B.S.E. issue in the United States, Mr. Bossman added, noting that the U.S. feed industry is still able to use rendered animal protein in feed.

The industry also should capitalize on statistics such as those issued last fall by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which lowered its estimate of food-borne illness fatalities to 5,000 per year from 9,000 per year. "That is a dramatic indication that not only is our food safer than we thought, but also that the constant nay-sayers who raise funds using food scares are incredibly wrong," Mr. Bossman said.

A.F.I.A. and the International Feed Industry Federation (based in the United Kingdom) are participating in the World Trade Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization's Codex Alimentar-ius Commission, a worldwide body charged with developing global standards for food safety. Mr. Bossman will represent the A.F.I.A. as an international delegate at a June meeting of the Codex task force for animal feed (see box below).

"It is time for this new, visible feed industry to work together, worldwide, to inform a global public and its leaders how and why we can feed our people better than at any moment in the history of the world," Mr. Bossman said. "And to prove, through our systems, technology and science, that when we say we are and can be responsible in our delivery of wholesome meat, milk and eggs, we are stating an unassailable truth."

In the United States, A.F.I.A. initiated a food safety plan to communicate its message about the quality of the animal protein supply to consumers, retailers and government regulators and developed a "Quality Management System" to assure high levels of quality control within the industry (see World Grain, April 2000, page 72).

"Confidence in the feed industry is built on what goes on inside every feed mill around the world," Mr. Bossman said. "It starts with our employees and the training we give them. We build it through the ingredients we buy and the suppliers we choose. We can continue to build it with the science we embrace and the regulations we follow."

He advised feed mills to reexamine their operations, restore quality inspections cut back as a result of downsizing and reevaluate approved suppliers. If production quality has been lax because profits have been thin, he said, commit to renewed training programs and emphasize quality assurance programs.

"The world is watching what you do," Mr. Bossman said. "The cameras from 60 Minutes or 20/20 (U.S. television news shows) are only one minor incident away from your door. We are no longer a hidden industry; we've been pushed into the spotlight."

A SERIOUS ROLE. Like the U.S. feed industry, the compound feed industry in Europe also adheres to not only government regulations and directives regarding feed production and marketing, but voluntarily follows Codes of Practice and Good Manufacturing Practices to control the risks to feed and food safety, according to Mr. Lake of the European Feed Manufacturers Association (FEFAC).

Speaking last year at a public hearing of the European Parliament on food safety, Mr. Lake said the European feed industry — which produces more than 300 million tonnes of feed annually — takes its role in food safety very seriously.

"All of those involved (in feed manufacturing) do take seriously the control and elimination of all known risks," he said.

But legislation and regulations that govern Europe's compound feed industry must be expanded to raw material suppliers, including the transport chain and on-farm feeding of animals, Mr. Lake said. Many of the highly publicized cases of food-borne illnesses in Europe could be traced to the raw material supplier and not the feed manufacturer, he said.

The dioxin contamination of feed in Belgium last year was an "isolated incident of accidental or fraudulent origin at a Belgian supplier of blended fats, which were subsequently sold to some compound feed producers," Mr. Lake said.

He said research has shown that there are three major sources for dioxin contamination in food products:

• Industrial pollution, mainly waste incinerators and other combustion and industrial processes that contribute a certain level of pollution in agricultural raw materials, such as forages from pastures located near a polluting plant. Mr. Lake also cited cases of emissions from paper mills on the Baltic sea as a pollution source for marine life.

• Natural phenomenon of geogenic origin, such as mineral clays.

• Certain industrial processing techniques in the food chain, including some direct drying processes for agricultural raw materials.

The Belgian contamination, he said, was probably caused by a dioxin-like P.C.B. oil, a product often incorporated in transformers in electrical equipment that was classified as "persistent organic pollutants" and banned worldwide more than 20 years ago. A worldwide inventory of P.C.B.'s is ongoing.

In order to prevent similar incidents, Europe's feed industry has taken steps to monitor dioxins in raw materials and additives. The industry introduced a standard for uniform control and traceability systems for fats and oils that imposes certain obligations on suppliers of these products, Mr. Lake said.

In the case of sewage sludge found in feed in France, Mr. Lake said the feed industry was once again let down by not only its suppliers but also by government authorities "who apparently have not been capable of effectively enforcing the existing legal ban for sewage at the level of certain plants."

Currently, compound feed manufacturers bear the responsibility of up to 85% of all food safety controls, Mr. Lake said. "We believe that a more equal balance between controls at feed mill level and feed material suppliers and farm level, with a greater focus on contaminants, would be desirable from a food safety perspective," he said.

Politically, he said he supports the development of a coherent E.U. food policy that covers all consumer safety aspects, "from the stable to the table," and increased responsibility for environmental concerns that interact with the food chain.

Governments and feed manufacturers all over the world must embrace food safety as their top priority, added Mr. Bossman of the A.F.I.A.

Animal agriculture presently provides one-third of all human food protein. The global demand for animal products is increasing more rapidly than the world's population, with about 95% of the increase coming from developing nations.

"In the next 40 years, the feed industry will be faced with the challenge of growing, processing and delivering as much food as the world consumed in the entire span of human history up to now," according to Mr. Bossman.

The growing and processing of food will be easy, he said. The delivery and distribution of will be the hardest part, he added, requiring both "political will" and worldwide infrastructure systems.

"We must make food safety our passion, because it is just that important," he said.

Good manufacturing practices for feed production

Because there are potential risks to human health associated with the chemical or biological contamination of animal feed, a Code of Practice for Good Animal Feeding was developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The code outlines procedures for the processing, handling and monitoring of feed. These Good Manufacturing Practices (G.M.P.s) are the responsibility of the feed producer or manufacturer, and involve:

• Keeping buildings and equipment, including processing machinery, easy to operate, maintain and clean.

• Up-to-date staff training.

• Good record keeping regarding ingredient sources, formulations and sources of all additives, manufacture date, processing conditions and date of dispatch, including details of transportation and destination.

• Using potable-quality water in feed manufacturing.

• Drying machinery that comes into contact with feed after any wet cleaning process.

• Minimizing condensation.

• Disposing of sewage, waste and rain water to ensure equipment, ingredients and feed are not contaminated.

• Keeping feed processing plants, storage facilities and their immediate surroundings clean and free of pests.

Meeting set to discuss international feed safety standards

The development of international guidelines or recommendations on animal feeding will be the goal of the first meeting of the Ad-Hoc Intergovernmental Codex Task Force on Animal Feeding, June 13-15 at the Radisson SAS Scandinavia Hotel Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.

The task force, formed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, will complete work on the Code of Practice for Good Animal Feeding as well as address other aspects of food safety, including problems related to toxic substances, pathogens, microbial resistance, new technologies, storage, control measures and traceability.

The session, which will be conducted in English, French and Spanish, will be open to member nations and associate members of the W.H.O. and the F.A.O.

The objective of the international Code of Practice on Good Animal Feeding is to encourage adherence to Good Manufacturing Practice (G.M.P.) during the procurement, handling, storage, processing and distribution of feed for food-producing animals and to encourage good feeding practices on the farm.

For more information, contact the Danish Plant Directorate, Skovbrynet 20, DK 2800 Lyngby, Denmark; Tel/fax: 45-4596-6610; E-mail: