Our contribution with feed to food
The world needs a sustainable, high-quality way of meeting the growing, global demand for food and animal proteins. The animal feed industry plays a crucial role in this by constantly leveraging its expertise to improve both efficiency in the livestock farming sector and animal health and welfare – with the smallest possible impact on the environment. Sustainable and safe production of animal feed, and hence food, can only be achieved by focusing on quality, precision feeding and innovation. This is what ForFarmers focuses on. Our sustainability objectives to improve feed safety and to promote animal health and welfare should be viewed in this context.
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Continuous process a prerequisite for the supply of safe feeds
To provide high-quality feeds that contribute to the health and welfare of animals, with the smallest possible carbon footprint, the processes for the production of these feeds must be tightly coordinated and closely monitored.
The process starts with establishing an animal’s nutrient requirement, and is based on the principle that the (market) value of a raw material is determined by how readily available it is and how it can be applied in animal feed. Cows can digest more and different nutrients than humans. This means that large flows of raw materials which are not suitable for making human food are used to produce feed for ruminants, with grass being the most obvious example. By comparison, pigs and poultry have a digestive system which is more similar to that of humans. At the same time pigs and poultry do have a different diet than that of humans, for example consuming barley that is not suitable for brewing beer and wheat that cannot be used to make bread. Whereas humans enjoy eating crisps made from potatoes that have been peeled and fried in sunflower oil, pigs are happy with potato peel and the by-products of sunflower oil production (sunflower seed meal). There are other residual products from the food industry which are unsuitable for direct human consumption but are used in pig feed, including co-products derived from the production of wheat flour, the sugar industry, fruit juices and beer production. Return flows from supermarkets such as bread, cake and chocolate are converted into high-quality food products (in the form of milk, meat and eggs) for human consumption. Animals furthermore produce manure, which is used to grow crops. As such animals are an indispensable link in the nutrient cycle.
Formulation: collaboration between nutritionists and purchasing department to achieve optimum recipe for the animal
To get animals to grow and produce efficiently it is not enough to only use and combine co-products and residual flows into feed concepts. Raw materials for animal feed must be used as efficiently as possible in order to achieve the optimum balance between growth, production and manure emission by the animal. This is called ‘precision feeding’ and is aimed at achieving optimum feed conversion. The employees of the Nutrition Innovation Centre (NIC) collaborate closely with the purchasing and formulation departments. The first step is to establish the nutritional requirements for the feed. These are used to determine and purchase the necessary raw materials (type, quality and quantity). A sample is taken from each batch of raw materials and tested at the delivery site and/or the laboratory. The raw materials, vitamins and minerals are analysed at the laboratory. This information is used to determine feed recipes, so that animals get exactly the right quantity of energy and protein for their health and welfare to enable them to optimise their growth and production.
Purchasing high-quality raw materials
The process for purchasing raw materials is a crucial activity at ForFarmers. Availability, usability, price and quality of raw materials are important pillars which ForFarmers uses as a basis for deciding what raw materials to purchase, and in what quantity and from which supplier. In this context we see advantages in cooperating with only a limited number of parties for whom quality and quality assurance is also a prime consideration. The purchasing process is described in more detail in the chapter 'Trends and opportunities'. Needless to say we also look at the sustainability credentials of our suppliers, for example only working with businesses that respect the Sedex code. This is described in more detail in the chapter ‘Our contribution to a sustainable livestock industry’.
Production: from raw material to pellet
Once the recipes are ready they are sent to the factories, where they are used to turn raw materials into meal, crumbs or smaller or larger pellets. Younger animals get the feed in crumbs and smaller pellets, with larger pelletsfor older animals.
Quality control: an essential part of our objective to improve feed safety
Quality is a top priority for ForFarmers. We have four in-house laboratories which test both our raw materials and our feeds on an ongoing basis. Animals are selective in what they eat. The physical quality of feed is a key factor in this respect. Following each production cycle the percentage of meal in the feed pellet and its firmness and/or structure is determined. Moreover samples are taken from the feeds which are analysed in the laboratory to establish whether they meet the contents specified on the label. The results of the sample tests are reported to both the factory production manager and the quality department. If any discrepancies are found, corrective measures are taken to prevent repetition. If necessary, feeds are not delivered or are recalled. The process is governed by a strict procedure, supported by digital systems. The quality reports are shared both at site and sector level and with the Executive Committee.
We take a group-wide approach (One ForFarmers) to the control of feedstuffs and compound feed, thereby working in accordance with the requirements of EU legislation, GMP+ International, the Feed Chain Alliance, UFAS and QS quality standards, the SecureFeed control plan and our own ForFarmers risk analyses. In each country compliance with the legal requirements and voluntary codes is determined by means of inspections and external checks by the relevant competent authorities, external certification bodies and audits by third parties – in many cases retailers. In the United Kingdom there is an ‘earned recognition’ agreement between UFAS and the regulator (the Food Standards Agency), which means that a different emphasis is placed on risk analysis compared to continental Europe where the national control bodies play a more proactive role.
All incidents whereby animal feed does not comply with the legal requirements and the voluntary codes are proactively monitored and managed. We aim for zero incidents.
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Number of feed safety incidents*
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The number of feed safety incidents decreased further in 2019. After additional internal checks, specific improvements were made in 2019 in the field of hygiene and pest control at site level. Moreover, processes at a few sites where critical ingredients are processed were optimised in order to reduce the risk of possible cross-contamination.
Logistics: on-time delivery is a prerequisite for customer retention
Animals need to be fed in time and so getting the right order to the customer on time is crucial. ForFarmers spends time and energy on, and invests funds in, optimising outbound logistics. Where possible factories are equipped with contrasets (pre-loading silos) in order to minimise loading times into bulk trucks. We are also investigating the possibilities of changing, sometimes with the aid of digital systems, the ordering habits of customers in such a way as to avoid peak loads at the factories and in the logistics chain.
Advice: crucial to the livestock farmer
In addition to feed ForFarmers supplies livestock farmers with advice and tools so that they can improve their on-farm returns. Feed conversion and animal health and welfare play a central role in this. Our advisers use data to show the farmer how business processes can be adapted where necessary. Providing advice is part of the Total Feed approach, whereby we stand side by side with the livestock farmers to help them improve their on-farm returns with healthy animals and in an efficient way. Where necessary our advisers work with the vet to develop a shared improvement plan, such as the new Nutricare 360 approach to improve the health and vitality of piglets. The management approach of the livestock farmer, the health approach of the vet and the nutritional approach of ForFarmers are combined to create a joint advisory plan. The Agroscoop management programme is used to formulate and monitor the technical objectives, and so it is important to us to provide ongoing training to our advisers. For this purpose we have set up internal, animal-specific academies, where all the knowledge and experience that is present can be shared. This benefits livestock farmers.
Innovation: promoting the health and welfare of animals
In line with one of our six sustainability objectives the 25 or so employees of the Nutrition Innovation Centre (NIC) are constantly working on the development of specific concepts aimed at promoting animal health and welfare. The core focus is to ensure that each animal gets the right amount of nutrients to meet its basic needs. ForFarmers customers use many different production systems: intensive and extensive, conventional and organic, indoor and outdoor and small and large-scale. In developing animal-specific concepts the type of production system and the quality of the end product (eggs, milk, meat) must be taken into account. In addition each innovation project looks at what impact it will have on the environment, humans and animal welfare. This demonstrates just how complex innovation processes are.
Given the different species of animal and the breadth of the subject it is still hard to define and monitor improvements in animal health and welfare in a consistent and measurable way. Digitalisation definitely offers opportunities. ForFarmers is actively looking for workable solutions in this area.
The following innovation projects are examples of concepts for the improvement of animal health and welfare:
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the great challenges for both human and veterinary medicine given that some bacteria no longer respond to antibiotics. The European Commission has included the role of animal nutrition in its action plan against AMR. ForFarmers searches for nutritional solutions to help customers and vets to reduce the amount of antibiotics used in livestock farming. In the Netherlands and Germany the sector has agreed to stop adding medication to feed. In the United Kingdom, Belgium and Poland reduction targets have been set by the sectors locally.
ForFarmers in the United Kingdom was “highly commended” at the annual international Antibiotic Guardian Awards in 2019, a recognition of our constant efforts in the fight against AMR. The efforts in the area of AMR have resulted in an increasing reduction in the use of antibiotics in livestock farming.
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Innovation projects aimed at improving animal health and welfare
|Including synthetic amino acids in rations for ruminants, leads to better nitrogen efficiency, improved health and fertility.||Introduction of an improved VIDA Vital piglet feed to prevent gut health problems||Developing an optimal feeding strategy for slow growing/higher animal welfare broilers.|
|Differentation in production and maize seed grinding size improves the feeding value of maize silage. Plus can improve animal health||To reduce streptococcus via feed approach||Improving early life concepts for broiler chicks resulting in improved health in later life.|
|Improving immunity and fertility in dairy cows via inclusion of specific fatty acids in the diet||Continuous development of the Ultra-Score, the farm health monitoring system for grower/finisher pigs helping to select the best nutritional health promoting approach||Optimize layer feeds for hens with longer laying cycle so improved sustainability in the cycle|
|Innovative weaning strategy aiming at reduced weaning stress in calves||Introduction of Nutripower+: System to predict digestive parameters of feed such as speed of digestion. This system help to promote gut and total animal health||Feed for better leg/bone quality in broilers and broiler breeders|
|Improved Translac concept aiming at better health and fertility of dairy cows||Developing a heat stress feed approach that prevents the negative performance, animal welfare and health effect in periods of temperatures above the animals thermo comfort zone||Further develop the split-feeding concept for laying hens to lower phosphorus and nitrogen input thus improve mineral efficiency|