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Food safety dominates discussion at VIV Asia

More than 150 industry leaders met to openly discuss the impact of recent crises and food safety scares on consumer confidence.

Food safety and security issues in the global supply chain made dinner conversation at VIV Asia. More than 150 industry leaders attended Alltech’s dinner event where the impact of recent crises and food safety scares on consumer confidence was openly discussed. 

The panel was composed of suppliers to the feed industry, integrated meat companies and a nutritionist involved with auditing meat and feed companies. Dr. Mark Lyons, vice president of corporate affairs at Alltech, opened with an overview of crisis management, noting the recent broiler issues that have arisen in China and in the actions of Yum! Brands and McDonald's.  

 The panel opened on the question, "Why does it seem that so many food crises have occurred in China?"

 "It's not only China that has seen crises recently. In Europe, we have had the horse meat scandal, mislabeled organic eggs and aflatoxin contamination in milk in the Netherlands due to contaminated Serbian and Romanian grains,” said Jon Ratcliff, Food and Agriculture Consultancy Services. “China attracts attention due to its sheer size -- one state is nearly the size of the EU -- thus its task in controlling food safety is magnified.  It is an enormous task for China to control food safety with 1.3 billion people spread over such a large geographical area."

The panel also discussed what the food industry is doing to adapt to food safety and traceability requirements.  Philip Wilkinson, director of the British Poultry Council and executive director of 2 Sisters Food Group, discussed the development of the Red Tractor scheme in the UK.

"The Red Tractor logo is a guarantee of quality and origin. Every critical step of the food supply chain is independently inspected to ensure food is produced to quality standards by assured farmers, growers and producers in the UK, from farm to pack," said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson stressed that the industry initiative has not been imposed on companies, but rather driven and embraced by the entire industry all along the supply chain.  Ratcliff argued that while there is a place for approval schemes and auditing procedures, "They are not a guarantee against food scandals or crises.”

Another topic addressed was whether some countries were using food safety as a form of protectionism, but all agreed that this was not the case. Ratcliff told the audience that the industry must differentiate between food safety issues (such as dioxins or PCB contamination) and issues that are simply consumer concerns (hormone use or GMO products).  If companies want to export, they must meet local regulatory requirements as well as retailer requirements such as welfare or feed requirements. Ratcliff stressed that this is not a barrier, as the same rules are applied to producers inside the country as well.

"This is not a barrier of entry - it is only fair that foreign suppliers meet equal requirements as local suppliers," Wilkinson agreed. 

Panelists were also asked what suppliers can do to make crisis management a core competence.   Lyons stressed that companies should have people in the organization focused on food safety.

"We pay for feed, raw materials, lights, etc. -- but we have to consider food safety a necessary part of our cost structure,” Lyons said. “The costs are too high -- we must include this in our pricing."

Philip Wilkinson spoke of the importance of consumer confidence in food. 

 "If you buy a beef burger, you expect to get beef,” Wilkinson said. “We must assure customers that we are delivering what we say we are going to."  

Lyons agreed, touching on recent testing that found "a single hamburger may be made with meat deriving from as many as 300 different animals."

In closing, the panelists made final comment regarding the topics covered throughout the Alltech dinner event. Ratcliff encouraged attendees to be proactive and to analyze their business at all levels and look to where a problem might occur. Wilkinson emphasized that the beef issue is only the tip of the iceberg. He showed the audience a full page newspaper advertisement from Tesco in the UK promoting that their policy from July will be to use only Irish or UK chicken, as is currently the case with beef.

"Never lose the opportunity of a good crisis," encouraged Lyons. "Looking at China, we need to learn from crises. We need to really create initiatives for those that do the right thing. We need to provide programs to help them produce more food at lower cost."

"The food industry has a lot to be proud of.  The developed world is living longer and is healthier than ever before.  We don't need to be defensive," said Wilkinson."We are always looking to be safer, but really, our industry is doing a great job.”

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