Photo courtesy of FEFAC.
Tijssens started with an optimistic tone following FEFAC’s recent general assembly in which the organization re-examined the industry’s goals and purpose with the publication of the 2030 Feed Industry Vision.
“The key issue for us as a feed industry association is questioning our contribution to the livestock value chain,” he said. “Are we just about mixing and milling? Are we just delivering a bunch of arbitrary raw materials or are we animal nutrition experts?
“We all agree that our core focus is about delivering nutritional solutions through science and technology. Innovation, research and development, as well as the use of big data technology, are within the scope of our 2030 Feed Industry Vision. This is a very important step for the feed industry.”
He related that to the crisis in livestock farming.
“Our role is to deliver nutritional solutions so that farmers can produce their pigs, eggs or milk in the most efficient, cost-effective and sustainable way,” he said. “Secondly, taking this whole antibiotic AMR (antimicrobial resistance) discussion, what you always see is that political and societal pressure is put on farmers to simply use less antibiotics. But the approach should come from the solution perspective, and that’s where the feed industry can play an important role. Our role is to deliver nutritional solutions that stimulate the health in farm animals and foster their resistance to infections, thereby reducing the need for antibiotics.”
He also referred to the wider discussion on sustainability and responsible production. Increasing the health status of animals means reducing the need for phosphates, for example.
“A healthy animal is an efficient animal,” he said. “Increasing phosphate efficiency is extremely important. It’s all aligned in our vision. It’s all our core focus. We changed from mixing and milling to delivering valuable nutrition. Feed safety will remain a very critical issue on the agenda, but the new focus puts the role of the delivery of high value nutrition to our farmers more into the spotlight.
“The feed industry is often seen, in the public domain or in other discussions, as these guys who are directly delivering the raw materials they source. The strength of compound feed manufacturing is delivering precisely formulated feed meeting the specific farm animal’s physiological requirements. This means we don’t feed grains or soybean meal, but digestible lysine and metabolizable energy value, etc. Looking at feed manufacturing this way requires a different mindset.”
The way legislation is formed is changing.
“I call it ‘co-regulation,’” he said. “Traditionally the legislators draft regulations based on the input they receive, but what we increasingly see is that the legislators appreciate the industry to take its own responsibilities, especially in fields where industry commitment is crucial to achieve any result. As a feed industry, we already have our European Feed Manufacturing Code, which is about feed safety, a code for European feed manufacturers on how to implement the legislation properly, and it’s quite interesting to see that we are now more involved with this process: the development of guidelines, which are voluntary.”
He gave an example of a joint project between FEFAC and the European Commission on environmental footprinting.
“We have drafted the structure for the methodology of calculating the environmental footprint of feed production and, together with the international feed industry federation (IFIF), we have made efforts to create a public database on feed ingredients,” he said. “The European Commission, of course, has the last say on anything the industry proposes, but it fully supports this development. Another example is the labeling code we developed together with Copa-Cogeca, the farmers’ association.
“Another interesting example is our responsible soy sourcing guidelines, which have been very well received by the market. Across Europe there are many stakeholders discussing the topic of responsible soy sourcing — particularly in the U.K., Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, France and Germany. There are fundamental differences as well, as some refer to one specific commercial standard, while some feed associations even have their own standard. Where FEFAC can make a difference is that if we can create a significantly big stream of responsible soy meeting a certain minimum level (i.e. the FEFAC Soy Sourcing Guidelines), this could become an actual physical commodity product. The FEFAC Soy Sourcing Guidelines are voluntary, but it is our advice that if they want to start discussions on responsible soy, they should use the FEFAC guidelines.
“Together with the International Trade Centre, part of the WTO, we also came up with an independent benchmarking system. Because the guidelines are not a standard but rather a set of E.U. feed industry minimum requirements, other actors in the soy value chain, including soy farmer organizations, can come up with their own solutions. It was about one year ago that we launched this and we should soon have 14 responsible soy programs positively benchmarked against our soy sourcing guidelines. This is part of this concept of co-regulation: taking responsibility, coming up with your own proper solutions, which can be implemented in practice in the markets, taking differences into account such as the variation in the production of soy internationally.”
Addressing the GM issue
FEFAC expressed its solidarity with livestock farmers at a time when they were in crisis.
“At the same moment and as an important contribution to that subject, we maintain a focus on the discussions in Europe that impact upon the import of raw materials,” he said.
Tijssens said the slow approval process for genetically modified products is a problem.
“Before the summer, the Commission approved a whole series of GM varieties after a long period of standstill that started to threaten our legal certainty,” he said. “FEFAC is very critical of these politically motivated ‘de facto bans’ by the Commission, which are unpredictable by nature. We are focusing on the agreements we have to be able to import raw materials into Europe. By not having a smooth and predictable process it is really constantly endangering and hampering the imports of raw materials.
“We are asking the European Commission to come up with an answer. The uncertainty and associated risk is being priced in. It disadvantages our livestock farmers when you compare their competitiveness with other farmers in different parts of the world.”
European legislators’ attitude toward crop protection products also has the potential to create problems.
“There is a lot of discussion on which agro-chemicals are approved to be used in Europe,” Tijssens said. “We are also part of this society. We do understand why this discussion and issue is important. But at the moment, if there is no formal authorization to use a certain crop protection aid in Europe, it directly has an impact on the import of our raw materials.”
If a product is not approved, the E.U. has a system of zero tolerance.
“The process is very unclear,” he said.
Where imported raw material is used and has been treated with chemicals not allowed in the E.U., and use for food and feed is to be expected, it has to go through a risk analysis to show that it will exceed the legal limits for the final foods.
“But the way this risk analysis is done and approved by national authorities differs all over Europe,” he said. “They all have their own interpretations.
“There are now so many different crop protection aids being used around the world for which the agro-chemical companies don’t file an E.U. import tolerance application. This is creating an image that there is a feed safety risk so in our lobbying we are asking the European Commission to come up with proper solutions to this and help us out.
“We are asking for a much more generic approach, where it is clearer what the exact guidelines are. I always stress that zero tolerance, suggesting zero risk, is a political subject, but in real life this does not exist. Again, associated risks are being priced in. If you take a poultry farmer, for example, 60% to 70% of his cost price is just feed. If these aspects of feed costs increase by 10% or 15%, this has a direct impact on the margins.”
Sometimes a subject is made political, despite the fact that the market can organize this aspect much more efficiently. The industry can deliver products to particular specifications from certain supply chains. Tjissens gave a good example.
“We always ask: What exactly is the problem with this whole GM discussion? Because if our clients ask for non-GM feed, we can deliver it,” he said. “There is a market demand and it is being met; it is all there. The non-GM certification systems are all there, the non-GM feed is all there, so there is no real political reason to make the existence of GM feed such a big subject.”
Finally, Tjissens offered his opinion on the U.K.’s vote to leave the E.U.
“Brexit will have an impact, but at the same time we expect there will be wisdom on both sides so that it will not impact trade between the continent and the U.K. too severely,” he said.