“Data is just data. We need useful information.”
There must be traceability within the feed chain, but how much transparency should there be? And how does the sector strike a balance between a big data overkill and usable information? Those were some of the key questions that were discussed at GMP+ International’s 25th Anniversary Conference on November 1-3 at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
It was only fitting that the conference took place at this location in the heart of Amsterdam’s historic city center. Not only did GMP+ International originate in The Netherlands in 1992, the Grain Trade Exchange Hall, in which the conference took place, is the symbol of Dutch international (grain) trade. And if these walls could talk, they would probably tell us that the spirited presentations, discussions and Q&A sessions at the conference in a way reflected the hustle and bustle of the old trading days. Only in 2017 it was not grain, but knowledge that was traded.
Or perhaps we should say shared. Because sharing – the sharing of knowledge, of data, of risks, of responsibilities within the feed chain – took center stage in Amsterdam. “We need a continuous flow of information going up and down the supply chain”, said keynote speaker Horst Lang, Head of QA & Environment at Globus, a German retail chain. “Sharing information guarantees more safety. Yet in some quarters of the sector track & trace is still lacking. That should be unheard of these days.”
As the second keynote speaker on the first day, Angela Booth, Director of Feed Safety at AB Agri (UK), agreed. “What keeps me awake at night is: what’s coming through the gates? The supply chain is still a challenge. There are so many elements we have to understand and control. Products are shipped, stored, and shipped again. And this only will get more.”
Booth argued in favor of more professional knowledge transfer with regards to feed safety management.
Both Lang and Booth emphasized that while the consumer has changed, the sector is lagging behind, especially when it comes to communicating its message. Traditionally the industry has been reactive, instead of proactive. “Open your doors to the end consumer. Be authentic”, Lang said. As far as communication is concerned, Booth was particularly passionate about getting the next generation engaged: “Too many young people don’t even consider working in our industry, because they don’t know it’s even an option. How do we inspire them?”
Maybe through arts? In between presentations, attendees of the conference took their chance to witness the fine photography of French photographer Laurent Bellec. He traveled the world to photograph all kinds of feed manufacturing plants, aiming to rediscover the history of contemporary industrial architecture. His photos were displayed for all to admire in the Keurzaal (the old inspection room of the exchange).
In the second part of the day Marcelo Martins (Managing Director EMEA at Cofco International) and Berhe Tekola (Director of Animal Production & Health Division at FAO) took on the subject of climate change and its impact on the feed sector. Producing regions will experience the consequences, as rising temperatures will lead to more contaminations, especially mycotoxins.
“We have to make sure we help producers protect their crops”, Martins said. During his keynote, Tekola made it clear it is impossible to feed 10 billion people with today’s crop production and without animal production. He proposed an open debate with all stakeholders about the food of the future.
“We must be bold and bring ideas together.” Working together and sharing information were prevalent again on day two of the conference, when Leo den Hartog, (Director R&D and Quality Affairs at Nutreco, the Netherlands), Dries Berckmans (KU Leuven and CEO at Soundtalks, Belgium) and Stanley Oliveira (Embrapa Informatica Agropecuaria, Brazil) held their keynotes about how big data will challenge and secure feed safety. Their addresses lead to an animated debate with the audience and other experts on stage about the importance of transparency, the opportunities of data management to realize it, the ownership of data and the question of how much data would be enough. “Data in the end is just data”, Berckmans said. “What we need is useful information. And therein lies the challenge.” Den Hartog fears the possibility of a data overkill. “One risk is that we randomly start gathering data and start calculating, and then drawing wrong conclusions as a result. We have to start with setting clear goals.”
All speakers agreed that useful data could have an extremely positive effect on feed safety. But how much of it should be shared (and when, and with whom) was up for debate. Someone in the audience seemed to speak for a lot of people in the industry when he quipped that “too much transparency is killing”. Others, like Leontien Hasselman, CEO of SIM Supply Chain Information Management (the Netherlands), were of the opinion that information should be readily available for consumers in times of turmoil. In normal times, she said, pointing to data of a food tracing app, consumers are just not that interested. But one thing is clear, Hasselman said. “Once you start being transparent, there is no turning back.”
And information about the origin of food ‘is going to matter regardless’, stressed Ruud Tijssens, Member of the Executive Committee at International Feed Industry Federation (IFIF), during his address about how feed safety can benefit from the need for sustainability. According to Tijssens, the discussion should not primarily be on what information should be shared with whom, but first and foremost about trust. “Take the discussion about soy. Even if your soy for 80 percent comes from areas that were not deforested, the discussion will not go away. It is so complex. We need dependable systems that prove responsible production.”
Is there a role for GMP+ International to play in that? Managing Director Johan den Hartog and Operations Director Roland van der Post of GMP+ International were cautious. Although feed safety and sustainability are closely related, as this conference showed yet again, they indeed are different playing fields, with different rules.
“Companies can compete on sustainability, since there are lots of different interpretations”, Den Hartog said. “Companies cannot compete on feed safety”, he said, adding that feed safety has always been and will stay GMP+ International’s core focus.
Den Hartog: “The issues addressed during the conference are inspiring for the improvement of feed safety and transparency. We will continue to discuss it with our stakeholders.”
The conference concluded on a lighter note – or was it? – by Dutch trendwatcher and TV-personality Adjiedj Bakas. His humorous and extremely provoking keynote touched some open nerves of the industry. “GreenPeace spends 240 million dollars worldwide every year in fighting you, but you are silent.” And: “You don’t innovate. While it is innovate or die.” He motivated the audience to find unconventional partners, embrace and engage the millennial generation and to not be afraid to ‘invest in craziness’, because craziness will rule the day. “The largest taxi company of the world, Uber, doesn’t own a single taxi.” Bakas ended on a positive note. “People will experience the shift, but you will be the ones making the shift happen.”
But while Bakas had the last say, there’s a fair chance that it were the words of Angela Booth that stuck with conference attendees the most when they left the Beurs van Berlage for a boat tour of today’s trade center, Rotterdam Harbor, on the third and final day. Maybe because she was such an eloquent speaker, maybe because her words summed up the conference perfectly, or maybe because she was simply right. “Too much transparency may be killing for the feed industry,” she said during a forum discussion on the second day. “But too little transparency will be killing as well.”
GMP+ International would like to thank all the keynote speakers, pitchers and moderators who made our conference possible: Horst Lang (Globus), Angela Booth (AB Agri), Marjan de Bock-Smit (SIM Supply Chain Information Management), Marcelo Martins (Cofco International), Berhe Tekola (FAO), Leo den Hartog, (Nutreco), Dries Berckmans (KU Leuven/Soundtalks), Stanley Robson de Medeiros Oliveira (Embrapa Informatica Agropecuaria), Ruud Tijssens (Agrifirm), Mieke Brinkel (Port of Rotterdam), Grigoriy Mazur (MNC Group), Leontien Hasselman (SIM Supply Chain Information Management), Johan B. van der Ven (ARASCO), Sheila Guebara (Elanco), Chen Peng (Beijing Enhalor International Tech Co), Valery Bestolkau (Ferment Ltd), Ruud Huirne (Rabobank), Kiki Kersten (Cargill), Evelien Alderliesten (FrieslandCampina), and Adjiedj Bakas.