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Early Warning System and Tracking & Tracing increasingly important for feed safety

2017.06.15

The ultimate opportunity for companies to lead in transparency

Climate change, a growing world population and sustainability: the biggest challenges for the feed industry are making early warnings (EWS) and traceability (Tracking & Tracing) increasingly important. In addition to preventive measures for controlling risks, tools are required for corrective measures in case of a contamination.

By Johan den Hartog, Managing Director GMP+ International

The main global challenges in today’s world can have catastrophic consequences for the quality and availability of (raw materials for) feed. More often than before, situations will arise in which the risk control is inadequate (which is expressed in the safety limit of an undesirable substance being exceeded) or in which batches are recalled out of precaution – companies are becoming more careful, on which we will elaborate later. To limit the damage and to retain or repair the trust, there is a crucial role for early warnings and traceability.

Safety chain
Both EWS and T&T are part of the so-called safety chain. This chain consists of two elements – risk control and crisis control – and forms the spine for safety assurance (see figure). Pro-action, prevention, preparation, response and recovery together provide a stable, safe and reliable safety system for feed.

Risk control consists of pro-action (measures that structurally prevent unsafe situations) and prevention (measures that reduce the risks to prevent incidents and crises). Incident and crisis control consists of three elements: preparation (measures to prepare for resolving incidents and crises), response (measures that provide stabilization in case of incidents and crises) and recovery (post-crisis activities, such as evaluation and aftercare).

Precaution never enough
In essence, risk control means precaution. In our feed safety scheme GMP+ Feed Safety Assurance (GMP+ FSA; see diagram) this is translated into minimum requirements, product standards, HACCP and quality management (ISO). But no matter how many precautions a company takes, incidents can never be prevented entirely.

After all, we’re dealing with fluctuations in nature, human error and sometimes also criminal actions.

In incidents, EWS, T&T and recall procedures provide a reliable safety net to fall back on (and to prevent the same incidents elsewhere due to timely corrective actions).

                     

EWS
Companies that are certified for GMP+ FSA are required to take their responsibility by timely implementation of the proper measures. They must report situations with unsafe feed, both to GMP+ International and to the buyers (by means of T&T). In addition, the company must block the relevant batches and recall them where necessary. In addition, the relevant company must trace the source of the contamination (again, T&T) so that the previous links can adjust their risk control to prevent repetition. After the notification, GMP+ International assesses whether any follow-up action is required. In that case, other companies are warned to be extra alert with the raw materials or relevant products.

GMP+ FSA participants are required to submit an EWS notification within 12 hours after confirmation of a contamination, to GMP+ International, their certification body and – if legally required – to the competent authority. This applies both to contaminations that exceed the legal and / or GMP+ limit and to contaminants for which there is no limit, but that form a risk for the feed safety.

Increase in EWS notifications
The number of EWS notifications received by GMP+ International is rapidly increasing. From 147 in 2015 to 250 in 2016. That would seem like bad news, but that isn’t necessarily true. The increase was partly caused by a tightening of the notification duty. In addition, companies proved to be better able to identify early (potential) risks for feed safety. They were able to successfully take measures; in most cases the situation was quickly under control. GMP+ International sent ‘only’ 21 warnings (four more than in 2015). In 80 percent of the cases, it concerned issues with feed materials, in the remaining 20 percent it concerned compound feed, additives, premixtures, pet feed and non-feed.


For the second year in a row, high levels of pesticides residue were the main reason for a notification (2016: 67 notifications, 2015: 45 notifications). Coming in at the second place are the high levels of mycotoxins (2016: 48 notifications). These top two contenders reflect the difficulties of the past years to grow and harvest safe raw materials for feed. The underlying cause often were wet weather conditions, in 2015 and 2016, mainly in South America. This can also be a harbinger of what awaits us with climate change. Certain in any case, is that the feed industry must be more alert and active with regard to the hazards mycotoxins and residues – both with the risk control and with early warnings. The overview of EWS notifications forms great input for tightening the (proprietary) HACCP plan.
 
Blockades
In the European market, the issue with residues of pesticides is extra complicated, partly because EU legislation is raising blockades. This mainly applies to situations in which residue is detected in imported feed materials for pesticides that are not authorized in the EU. In that case, every find results in a serious bottleneck and disrupted raw material flows.

It is not just the government that is raising blockades, the market itself is doing it as well, mainly in West Europe. Among consumers, buyers and CSOs, there is more and more focus on – and aversion against – pesticide residues. All the more reason to make companies more sustainable and to take measures that reduce the use of pesticides. As a result of that, there will be less and less incidents with too high values in feed materials and / or compound feed.

Demanding consumer
EWS notifications provide valuable input for this, but, at the same time, define high requirements for traceability. After all, in every incident with too high residue levels, the size of the problem, and the duration in which the incident occurred must be clear quickly. This means checking the size of the contaminated batch of feed (raw material) (tracking) and mapping its origin and to what extent it has been introduced into the market (tracing).
 
Tracking & tracing must be fast above all. EU legislation dictates that it must be possible to submit the T&T overview to the authorities immediately. In GMP+ FSA this has been concretized: in case of issues with a batch of feed, the company must be able to report within four hours who the supplier was and what buyer(s) have received a delivery from this batch of (produced) feed. Experience dictates that this approach is very effective and prevents large-scale incidents with contaminated feed and financial damage.

Fast and transparent actions translates into trust in the market and also gives the company a good image. Today’s demanding consumer/buyer expects swift action and insight in the measures and the effect thereof. From the perspective of reputation management, it is to be expected that companies will be taking precautionary measures more and more often. This is already visible in the increase of the number of recalls at supermarkets and their suppliers. There is reason to believe that this trend will continue further back into the production chain and will also be applicable in the feed industry.

QR-code
GMP+ FSA also requires certified companies to link inbound and outbound product flows in their administration. In this case, if an analysis shows that a feed party has too high levels of a contaminant,  a company can check its records to see in what batch(es) of a compound feed this has been processed. Measures, such as blocking for further use or a recall, can then be carried out in an extremely targeted manner. This reduces the financial damage.

As a tool, T&T will increasingly provide insight in product flows, instead of ‘just’ in case of problems. There already are concepts with which consumers can scan a product in-store via a unique (QR-) code to see where it was produced, what (feed) raw materials are involved and whether they meet sustainability requirements. Due to the rapid developments in big data, that trend will become commonplace in the market sooner rather than later. Companies that act fast, will take the lead.

Global challenges
It is not the role of GMP+ International to act as driver of these developments. As manager of a feed safety certificate, that is not our task. We do make sure however, that we keep track of the global challenges and the changing requirements of consumers and buyers. Does the growth of the world population cause shortage in high-quality raw materials? Is there increasing hazard of less suitable raw materials being introduced to the feed market?

We offer companies knowledge of trends and developments, insights into how they affect the feed safety and ways to assure that safety with preventive, proactive and reactive measures. In that, we rely on the knowledge and experience of many stakeholders, whom we constantly consult. This multi-stakeholder participation also makes sure that GMP+ FSA doesn’t lose touch with the practice of the certified companies.

International conference GMP+ International
The certification scheme GMP+ Feed Safety Assurance was created in 25 years. It is the combination of characteristics that have made GMP+ FSA the global leading certification scheme: ISO and HACCP, EWS and Tracking & Tracing, Chain approach, International reach, Country Notes, Sustainability, Integrity, Fraud prevention and Focus on corporate culture. Our scheme allows companies to make safe feed so that consumers can have safe food of animal origin. 2017 marks the 25th year of GMP+ International. This anniversary is celebrated in various ways, ending with a large international conference at the venue the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam, early November. More information is available at www.gmpplus.org.