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Animal feed: the weakest link in the food chain?

Since the 1990s, the European agri-food industry has been marked by a series of scandals the majority of which, for example, Mad Cow Disease, Dioxin and MPA, can be directly linked to animal feed contamination. We must therefore ask ourselves, is animal feed indeed the weakest link in the food chain?

 
By David Byrne
 
As concerns continue to mount globally, the time has come for all stakeholders to address this issue which jeopardises the reputation of the feed industry and has serious implications for international food trade.
 
Within the European Union, the White Paper on Food Safety (12 January 2000), investigating areas such as traceability, labelling, hygiene and risk assessment, has paved the way for extensive legislative reform. As well as a comprehensive risk analysis and risk management strategy, a 'three pillar' approach was adopted comprising of a full range of Food and Safety Laws; the setting up of a new independent European Food Safety Authority, and the introduction of an effective control and enforcement mechanism.
 
An additional important aspect is the industry voluntary initiative and complementarities with regulatory ones, which are also part of the EU response on food safety issues.
 
A new challenge
Although the introduction of legislation targeting different elements of the food chain has led to enhanced consumer confidence, globalisation continues to pose a challenge. Implementation is also a key one. A situation where different rules apply in different countries, for example permitted levels of residues or contaminants, provokes problems. Is there now a new challenge to move towards a system of global risk assessment that is accepted by all? How far can this build on the EU laws and relating industry initiatives?
 
Developing countries are heavily dependent on food exports and experience has shown that this is where most problems arise. As the world's largest importer of food (who together with the US account for 70% of import demand), the EU has a huge responsibility to ensure that national standards conform to international rules and that all stakeholders are at least in compliance with guidelines set by international standard setting bodies, such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission. As well as protecting the health of consumers and ensuring fair trade practices in food trade, compliance with international standards will ultimately help mitigate WTO disputes. To this end, much progress has been made and as the EU has extended its reach to trade food products all over the world, so too have EU food standards been exported worldwide. We have already seen greater co-operation between EFSA and the FDA, as well as the authorities in China. Countries approved for trading with the EU must comply with the requirement that they are able to inform Brussels of serious food safety concerns within 24 hours of an outbreak. The US is now requiring comparable measures to be in place with their trading partners. Consequently, a producer providing total traceability has a big competitive advantage.
 
Benefits for industry
The feed company that can reach global standards will accrue a range of benefits including, certainty, trouble free access to markets, and a high reputation for its products. Tomorrow's successful suppliers see global standards (whether Government or private standards) not as a burden or a crisis, but as a means to sustainably enhance reputation. Amongst the success stories is FAMI-QS which has quickly established itself as the global reference for the feed additives.
 
(Picture right: David Byrne is the former European Commissioner for health and consume protection and current non-executive director of Alltech.)
 
There is an opportunity for the industry to get involved in lawmaking by making the results of innovation policy available to policy makers in the EU. The application of resources to such an objective produces valuable outcomes for all. Better regulation will lead to enhanced stakeholder consultation, reduced bureaucracy, high quality impact assessments and will ultimately provide more room for voluntary agreements with the industry.
 
This article is taken from a presentation given at Fefana's (Eu Feed Additive & Premixture Association) Annual General Meeting on Thursday 15 June in Brussels.
 
Source: Feed Tech magazine. Volume 12. No. 7

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