Scandals prove need for high safety standards

Q&A Deirdre Webb, IGFA

At a recent meeting hosted by the Irish Grain and Feed Association (IGFA) with international feed safety representatives and EU feed manufacturers, the attendance included Julian Taieb, Dik Sonders, John Kelley, Simon Williams, Alex Doring, Deirdre Webb, Laetittia Cirrili, Brigig Maiers, Lucille Tailleu, Erik den Jensen, Erik den Hosen, Bernard Krusken, and Arnaud Bauxin.

The Irish Grain and Feed Association (IGFA) has called for international feed and food safety standards to be implemented across the industry in order to maintain the high reputation of Irish feed products internationally.

“It is essential for Ireland to have internationally recognised feed safety standards in place and to promote harmonisation of these schemes, so that they do not act as trade blocks to Irish products,” says Deirdre Webb, director, IGFA, which represents Irish feed manufacturers and suppliers.

With recent scandals in Europe, including aflatoxin contamination in the Netherlands, due to contaminated Serbian and Romanian grains, feed safety schemes are now an important feature of the food chain.

In March, feed from Serbia was reported in the Netherlands and Germany as contaminated with aflatoxins, and milk was withdrawn as a precaution, along with the feed.

Around the world, prolonged high humidity or damage due to drought often results in mycotoxin contamination of grain. The problem has increased in Europe, and there are fears that changing climates could increase this naturally occurring contaminant.

“It was essential that the EU feed industry reacted to this. We did this by harmonising protocols for increased sampling and testing of maize from Balkan areas,” explained Webb. “While Ireland does not generally import maize from these areas, a harmonised protocol across all suppliers is a responsible response, demonstrates due diligence, and helps to build common understanding of mycotoxin control. It also builds confidence with the consumer, as they see us react to incidents.

“We used the lessons and crises from the first half of 2013 to assess our early warning and incident control procedures.

“While we accept that no system is foolproof, particularly where deliberate fraud occurs, this should not lead to complacency but instead reinforces the need for a more dynamic approach to feed safety, to reduce food chain risk,” says Webb.

IGFA members are encouraged to be members of an internationally recognised feed safety assurance scheme, independently certified to EN 45011, the recognised European standard. All existing EU feed safety schemes are benchmarked against the core European feed manufacturers standard, assessed and recognised by the EU Commission.

Are internationally recognised feed safety standards a win-win for Irish farmers, feed industry and food industry?

Yes, harmonised equivalent feed safety schemes ensure Irish livestock products have access to international markets. Farmers can be confident that while their feed may be sourced locally, it has been produced to international and dynamic safety standards. Verification of suppliers is essential, this is the responsibility of the food or feed business operator.

It is clear that schemes provide a bridge for clear communication on feed safety, both within the value chain and for regulators.

IGFA recently discussed common areas and issues with the International Feed Safety Alliance and EU feed manufacturers. How did that go?

The meeting was organised to coincide with a workshop hosted by the Food and Veterinary Office in conjunction with the commission. The commission and the FVO told member states protecting the feed chain will involve recognising and co-operating with industry’s professional feed safety systems. The industry has accumulated vast expertise that could be used in a spirit of co- operation to protect the food chain.

You refer to the danger of standards being a trade block to Irish products. How could that happen?

Quite often, quality schemes are confused in their focus and are used to “exclude” products from a marketplace. Some quality scheme owners might wish to dominate in a certain region, and refuse to recognise other schemes. The only legal basis for interfering with free EU movement of goods is on public safety grounds.

IGFA says feed safety schemes should not form a barrier to Irish livestock products accessing international markets. We work to reduce technical barriers to movement of our products. A manufacturer of feed or feed additives in Cork can export internationally without the burden of multiple schemes. A tender from a large UK Red Tractor supplier for feed can just as easily be filled by an Irish manufacturer as a UK-based one. This reduces cost and duplication of effort, while maintaining standards.

We have obtained mutual recognition and equivalence with schemes operating in all of our major markets, a valuable asset, but it is in danger of falling apart. This year, Dutch and German quality schemes have become dissatisfied with sections of the food chain that tick boxes, say they have traceability in place, and feel this exonerates them from further responsibility.

Increasingly, international buyers want accountability from food business operators, and transparency between standards. I see a situation where the number of schemes is reduced to two or three, and these will be Dutch or German.

You refer to aflatoxin contamination in Serbian and Romanian grains. Are mycotoxins the No 1 feed safety threat?

Aflatoxin is a risk only in grain from regions shown to be contaminated. Maize imported to Ireland generally does not come from these areas. Suppliers routinely check at harvest and throughout the year for moulds and toxins. In Ireland, rations are made where possible with Irish cereals, checked at harvest and monitored throughout the year. Despite dreadful weather last year, we did not encounter major mycotoxin contamination in grain. The biggest threat is the drive to re-use surplus food. Everyone wants to reduce waste, however dumping former foodstuffs back into the feed chain is dangerous. Produce, once it has left the custody of the food chain, goes to “recyclers”, suppliers to the feed chain. The evidence shows this sector does not understand the risks involved, and struggles to maintain the chain of custody. We estimate 30,000 tonnes of surplus foodstuffs enter the feed chain in Ireland and go direct to farms. Do farmers understand enough about these products to handle the risks?


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