Food safety and food traceability measures are legal requirements in many countries (including the Philippines) to ensure that only healthy and clean produce reach the consumers.
Bord Bia, the food board of Ireland, collaborated with the European Commission in a pork and beef initiative—the “EU pork and beef excellence in quality and production standards.” Ireland, being the largest net beef exporter in EU, leads this program in promoting food and safety sustainability standards and in bringing high quality pork and beef to the world.
EU’s food safety legislation is centered on working in harmony with nature, raising livestock in their natural environment and applying sustainable farming measures—the qualities of traditional farming and modern technology striking a balance to ensure quality produce.
“The final point we could say about food safety and traceability is that we work in a biological industry. And in a biological industry, things are unpredictable,” says Fennell
ANIMAL TRACEABILITY: ISOLATING AND EXTINGUISHING THE PROBLEM
Declan Fennell, Bord Bia’s EU Program Head, says that every part of an animal’s journey before reaching its end of consumption is important. Through animal traceability, as patterned under EU regulations, consumers can have confidence in the food they are eating because it shows the full details of what an animal has gone through. This includes the record on the day of its birth, the processing and manufacturing procedures it went through, and its sales and purchases. Even the amount of time an animal has spent in the farm is accurately recorded. Animal traceability allows an animal to be identified from the production chain and back to its farm of origin.
“The final point we could say about food safety and traceability is that we work in a biological industry. And in a biological industry, things are unpredictable,” says Fennell.
According to him, the most important principle of food safety or traceability is that when something does go wrong, one can identify where the problem lies—there is a possibility to isolate the problem, and therefore, extinguish it. As producers, it’s necessary to have that system in place because when adversity unexpectedly surfaces (such as the case of the African swine fever), you can give consumers reassurance while at the same time staying in control.
“If the farmer is using any animal remedies, like antibiotics, you would record when you purchase what the given dosage is and its withdrawal period,” adds Fennell.
For him, a farmer must only administer antibiotics to its animals when it is needed. Cost aside, using antibiotics straightaway can result in the animal developing a certain immunity to it, such as the case for antibiotic resistance in humans, and so it leads to cost ineffectiveness.
“Any time you come up with something new, there’s resistance. But the way around it is through consultation.”
In the case of giving animals vitamins, Fennell is a strong advocate of natural farming and believes that all the nutrients an animal needs is in the grass itself. In some cases where the geographic location of a land results to different soil nutrient content, farmers supply meal (composed of grain) to fatten up the animal or administer a supplement feed to make up for the nutrients not contained in the grass of that specific area. But invariably, if it’s the raw substrate, the grass is sufficient. Since the production processing system is based on grass, and grass grows for free, there’s minimum input in grassland management—it’s all about efficiency.
HOW DO WE DRIVE ANIMAL FARMING FOR THE FUTURE?
The EU identifies the Philippines as a trading partner for beef production because, aside from not yet being self-sufficient, there’s a certain appreciation for quality produce. Bord Bia doesn’t want to be in a commodity business with the Philippines but rather in a long-term strategic partnership. What they wish to bring in to the animal farming system in the Philippines, besides quality assurance and sustainability, is the empowerment through the understanding of how a product is produced.
“We’re very much insight-led. The most important thing we always do when we land in the market is [to] understand it and not just the dynamic of the supply chain, but the consumer as well. When you understand the consumer, you understand the triggers, the barriers, the trends, and the features. Once you know those and you have an appreciation, you are more informed in a market’s category,” explains Fennell.
Bord Bia wants to emphasize learning more about the Philippine market, plans for 2020 in terms of putting more focus on the Philippines through having farmers and even consumers undergo trainings, workshops, and seminars in Ireland.
Fennell says that since farming is done in a solitary working environment, farmers have preconceived ideas that sometimes hold them back from any idea of change: “Any time you come up with something new, there’s resistance. But the way around it is through consultation.” Altogether, it’s about communicating the purpose, the benefit and the requirements of a few controls you to do to the farmers.
“The real heroes between our beef and pork are our farmers. It’s in our interest that we have farmers who will continue to farm the future. We put a lot of emphasis on education, and I suppose continuous education. And we also put a lot of effort in terms of consultations. Once you change the mindset and people understand, then you start making change,” Fennell says
Living in a world where, Fennell says, there’s a “vacuum of information”—misleading facts and fake news dressing up as the truth—it’s easy for people to get the wrong impression. Thus the importance of dialogue. If there are a lot of stiff requirements, and if they’re unrealistic or unachievable, then it’s not a win for anybody, especially to the farmers.
“The real heroes between our beef and pork are our farmers. It’s in our interest that we have farmers who will continue to farm the future. We put a lot of emphasis on education, and I suppose continuous education. And we also put a lot of effort in terms of consultations. Once you change the mindset and people understand, then you start making change,” Fennell says.
People who go into farming, according to Fennell, must have a passion for it. They should either like caring for animals or managing the landscape. As Fennel puts it, it’s a vocation. “It’s a lifestyle that suits them. It doesn’t suit everybody. And our biggest challenge is how do we try to get more younger people into farming—and it’s obvious that they’re not on the conveyor belt,” he says.
“In a general global view, we have to be smarter about where the current issues are happening. You have to focus at what you’re good at and use it as a competitive advantage, working your way towards sustainability,” says Fennell
At the crossroads of sustainable farming, there has to be a fair price to encourage the younger generation to go into farming— income and livelihood wise. Currently, there’s a lack of proper food appreciation, which makes consumers more informed and discerning about food and so expectations are high. As the global population continues to grow, there’s a need to reinvigorate resources to produce enough for the future generation. The land has to be passed on to them in as good as or better condition that we inherited it.
“In a general global view, we have to be smarter about where the current issues are happening. You have to focus at what you’re good at and use it as a competitive advantage, working your way towards sustainability,” says Fennell.
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