There was a time, until well into the eighties, in which the question where fish and animal feed came from, didn’t play a big role. As long as large amounts of animals didn’t fall ill, nobody was concerned about feed safety. In 2017, this attitude is impossible. We are currently going through the same development in the field of sustainability. There are great opportunities for companies that lead in that field. A dialogue with Johan den Hartog (GMP+ International) and Jose Villalon (Nutreco).
A company in the feed chain that is unable to demonstrate that it meets the standards for safe feed by means of a certificate, will have less and less countries that accept its products. Certificates such as GMP+ Feed Safety Assurance (FSA) and equivalent schemes have gained such a strong position across the globe in the past decades, that they have meanwhile become a license to sell in many countries. ‘ Feed safety hasn’t just gone mainstream, it has become top-of-mind throughout the chain’, Den Hartog explains in his office at GMP+ International in Rijswijk (the Netherlands).
In the past ten years, a second aspect was added: sustainability. Den Hartog: ‘GMP+ International was increasingly asked by the chain how companies could demonstrate that they not only work safely, but also take their responsibility for people, animals and the environment. Companies were wondering, for instance, how to demonstrate the use of responsible soy.’
Jose Villalon, Corporate Sustainability Director at Nutreco confirms this development. ‘In the past ten years we have seen how sustainability evolved from a perception of it coming “from the dark side” to it being a core strategy. Of course there are different maturity levels due to specific geographies or market pull, but in general the transformation has been significant. I am a believer that in the next fifteen to twenty years, sustainability will be a pre-competitive concept much like food safety is today.’
According to Villalon, the current “headliner” focus points for the aquaculture industry are related to five major sustainability issues: the use of antibiotics, the increased dependence on soy (and the associated deforestation), the dependence on the ecologically valuable, but vulnerable small pelagic fisheries and modern slavery in the fishmeal and fish oil sector and the efficient use of natural resources for feeds. The aquaculture industry is up for the challenge, Villalon believes. ‘The farmed seafood sector has a history of embracing its challenges and addressing them in a transparent and pre-competitive way.’
In response to the increasing importance of sustainability, GMP+ International launched Feed Responsibility Assurance (FRA) in 2014, an add-on certificate to GMP+ FSA, as proof of a sustainable and responsible work method. The auditor that audits the companies for safety, can also include sustainability in his audit on request. Den Hartog: ‘The role of GMP+ FRA is mainly to build a bridge between – for instance - the responsible cultivation of soy or fishing (for fish meal production) and the use thereof in compound feed for farmed animals and fish farms by proper assurance throughout the chain of custody.’
But whereas safety is a ‘hard’ theme that can be measured relatively easily thanks to calibrated feed safety limits, sustainability is software, and subject to so many different interpretations, depending on the region, culture, branch and practice, that it is difficult to impose rules that are feasible and acceptable for everyone.
For that reason, GMP+ International decided to not define any limits and refrain from imposing our definition of sustainable on the market. ‘ With GMP+ FRA, we offer a framework within each sector can establish its own sustainability standards by means of market initiatives,’ says Den Hartog. ‘These market initiatives are only included in GMP+ FRA if there is enough demand in the market.’
The need for sustainable work methods is felt more expressly in aquaculture than in other sectors, mainly because the activities within this sector are often carried out in areas of shared natural resources – the space available is shared by fish populations, fishermen, country communities and high conservation areas. For that reason, sustainable work methods have been the natural order of business within aqua for quite some time.
Villalon of Nutreco: ‘If you consider the FAO estimates that the industry should increase its’ output by 70 percent to meet the surging demand for food expected by 2050, and some NGO’s are estimating that we are already consuming the equivalent of 1.5 planet Earth’s worth of natural resources, it all boils down to our ability to produce more with less. Addressing this with micro ingredients and feed additives to increase digestibility and nutrient performance is essential.’
Due to the urgency of these issues, aqua has taken the lead compared to other sectors with regard to sustainability, Villalon observes. ‘The farmed salmon sector has been able to reduce dietary fishmeal from 50 percent of the diet to less than 7 percent and today we have the technology to produce with 0 percent fishmeal. We have seen how farmed shrimp grows 30 percent faster with 30 percent less feed.’
The framework van GMP+ FRA consists of two elements: certification requirements and the feed responsibility management system which contains requirements for the companies, focused on assuring sustainable feed. The requirements for the companies can be summarized with: strict purchasing requirements, records that show that the purchasing and sales of sustainable feed are in balance and correct business processes – which mainly comes down to awareness and training of personnel.
An agreement has been made with various marketing initiatives about the concrete interpretation, the main one relating to the production of responsible (RTRS) soy (GMP+ MI101). In this, suppliers are assessed based on the use of soil (preventing deforestation, mainly the Amazon jungle), use of pesticides and the labor conditions.
In addition, Duurzame Zuivelketen (Sustainable Dairy Chain), a market initiative from the Dutch Dairy sector, established a standard for responsible dairy feed (MI103) in collaboration with GMP+ International. In the core, this comes down to the use of RTRS soy (byproducts) in dairy feed. The sectors guards this by means of a white list of feed suppliers that meet this requirement. In conclusion, standards have been established for responsible pig and poultry feed (MI102) in collaboration with SMK, the manager of the Eco-label (Milieukeur) in the Netherlands. Den Hartog believes that, in time, products such as maize and fishmeal can be added to the scheme.
Groan, a trade company specialized in the supply of raw materials to the compound feed industry in the Netherlands, Belgium, German and France, was the first company that received a GMP+ FRA certificate, early 2015. ‘ We are aware of the impact that soy cultivation has on the climate and the social wellbeing in the production areas,’ Jaco Scheurwater, quality manager of Groan said about that. ‘ That is why we want to contribute to a chain for sustainably produced soy. This is one of the reasons to seek certification for the GMP+ MI101 for the trade in RTRS soy.’
That awareness is shared by more and more companies, Den Hartog observes. In 2016, the number of GMP+ FRA certified company grew rapidly; meanwhile, about 350 companies received this certificate, the majority of which is located in West Europe.
That is why Den Hartog believes that there is a unique opportunity for companies in other parts of the world – after all, a responsible production process is becoming increasingly important outside of Europe as well. ‘ Companies that are currently leading in sustainable work methods – and are able to demonstrate this by means of a certificate – not only contribute to a healthier world, but can also present themselves in their market as leader in the field of sustainability.’
Although the GMP+ FRA certificate initially is a step towards a better world, practice in Europe has shown that the companies that are among the first to obtain a certificate, benefit from this in their trade. ‘And that’s fine, after all, there must be food on the table as well.’
Villalon sees certification schemes as ‘a viable way for a producer to demonstrate its’ responsible production to customers and consumers (…) but they are not an end in itself’. In addition to certification, there will always be a need for legislation, says Villalon. ‘Unfortunately, sustainability certification does little to raise the floor for many small holder (producers) that don’t trade in global markets and don’t experience the demand for certified product. There is a clear need for improved national regulation in some emerging economies as well as enforcement capabilities, especially in undervisited marginal and rural areas.’
If the developments in the field of sustainability are compared to those in the field of safety, mainly similarities are found: just like safety which was once without obligations and today an absolute must, sustainable work methods are considered more and more to be a requirement as well. And there are a lot of opportunities for companies willing to go the extra mile. ‘I believe there is an ever increasing role for commercial retailers and food service stakeholders to partner with and recognize those suppliers that go beyond the demand of environmental standards and offer products that are much more responsibly produced’, says Villalon. ‘Think of highlighting fish grown without fishmeal and fish oil. Think of a complete antibiotic-free line of products. Both of these are currently available and could easily make it into the supply chain as we are beginning to see in some markets.’
Sustainability is not a trend, underlines Den Hartog of GMP+ International. ‘ It is not a hype that will pass in a couple of years, but a logical next step towards a world that will become increasingly safe and sustainable for everyone.’
In terms of aqua, Villalon is positive about the future: ‘The outlook is very challenging and the sector has a lot to achieve going forward, but I am very optimistic that the solution is in our hands and within our abilities.’