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SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production

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In conversation with… Henk Flipsen, Director of Nevedi

By 2050, the global population will have increased to at least nine billion people. In less than 40 years, there will therefore be a further 2 billion people who will need to live, work and eat. This means that food production will have to increase, without further harming the ecosystems. Animal protein producers can play an important role in that regard. However, that brings with it a more deep-seated responsibility, such as producing animal feed more sustainably. As director of the Netherlands Feed Industry Association, or NEVEDI, Henk Flipsen witnesses the developments up close. He speaks with us about the role of the animal feed sector in the context of responsible food production. 

Nevedi fulfils an important agenda-setting and coordinating role within the European animal feed sector. How did that arise?

‘As an employers' organisation, Nevedi focuses on several substantive key areas. Those include labour, animal feed legislation, quality & safety, and sustainability & innovation. The last of those key areas is primarily focused on raw material certification, climate and origin, and has become increasingly important in recent years. Soya and palm oil are prominent raw materials in discussions about sustainability. The attention paid to those raw materials started about 15 years ago when a number of NGOs drew attention to the large-scale deforestation of the Amazon region for soya production. This rightly resulted in large-scale public indignation. Our sector accepted its responsibility at that time. Since then, we and our members have been working intensively to ensure raw material certification. For example, we were a co-founder of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS).

What outcomes have resulted from that?

‘An important milestone was reached in 2015. The Netherlands held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union and following on from the Paris Agreement, the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership was adopted in order to combat deforestation. The Netherlands is now collaborating within that organisation, together with eight other countries and a large number of NGOs. At the same time, all soya that is used for animal feed in the Netherlands meets the FEFAC-soy sourcing guidelines (FSSG). This is a reference system which 19 schemes that are used in Europe and which meet these guidelines, are brought together. This is independently assessed by the International Trade Centre (ITC), an organisation affiliated to the United Nations. For example, RTRS is also one of the schemes that are subject to the FSSG. The FSSG are based on criteria, such as responsible working conditions, respect for land rights, the protection of communities and, of course, sustainable farming practices, as a means of combating deforestation.’

Nevertheless, the discussion regarding the certification and traceability of raw materials continues to take place. How is Nevedi working on this and which role do your stakeholders play in that?

Henk Flipsen

‘What we want is a watertight system of sustainable production, – for the planet, for indigenous people, for farmers and, of course, for ourselves. We want to take further steps in that regard. In the now widely used ‘book and claim’ system, the trader buys soya from producers who work according to one of the schemes that is compliant with the FSSG. This soya is mixed with non-certified soya for cost-related reasons. In physical terms, the buyer does not receive any, or only a small portion of, the certified soya it has ordered, but is nevertheless ensuring that anything it purchases somewhere has been grown according to our guidelines. At Nevedi, we want to guarantee that the soya that our members process in their animal feed is also actually produced in accordance with our sustainable standards. In other words, there is therefore a physical link. That was the reason why we launched the so-called ‘area mass balance’ certificates. What those certificates do is to guarantee that the soya supplies come from regions which we know for certain have not been deforested in the recent past. When this physically separated flow subsequently arrives at a port in Europe, the sustainable origin of soya used can therefore be guaranteed.  

As a result of this, we are working as a business community on a system that we are able to work with on a practical level. This in turn ensures the right cultivation conditions and is something we can use as a means of getting not only our stakeholders in the business community and governments, but also NGOs such as Greenpeace or the WWF on board.

How do you view European policy with regard to deforestation?

‘In the context of the European Green Deal, the European Commissioner Frans Timmermans has issued a new draft regulation to curb deforestation and forest degradation. The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality in the Netherlands has also launched an impact study into the effects of the various certification systems on deforestation. Instead of saying that we no longer want to have raw materials from certain producer countries, we would like to remain in discussion with them in order to combat deforestation. We are very curious about the results and recommendations. We are also happy to contribute to this if it actually works in reality.’ 

The basic principle is that we are aiming to ensure that there is as much circularity in our production process as possible. If we want to treat our planet well, we must be circular, in other words efficient and functional.

Henk Flipsen

What is your vision on sustainable food production?

‘The basic principle is that we are aiming to ensure that there is as much circularity in our production process as possible. If we want to treat our planet well, we must be circular, in other words efficient and functional. Producing food efficiently is one of the inherent characteristics of a farmer. In my opinion, you can optimise the entire process in the Netherlands. That is the reason why the Netherlands is so unique from an agricultural perspective.’

Everyone in the animal feed sector knows how important soya is, for example, for a ration. So, can you omit it?

Yes, calves, poultry and pigs will still grow without soya, but doing without it would make the whole process a lot less efficient. The amino acid composition of soya is unique and very well suited as animal feed and therefore for the development of the animal.

Let me put the use of soya in perspective. If you take the Netherlands itself and the consumption of soya as a whole, then that country’s consumption accounts for about 0.5% of the total global production. And if we look at the use of soya bean meal for the European animal feed industry, then that equates to just 10% of the entire global production. That is still a considerable volume, but still a limited quantity in global terms. As far as the EU is concerned, the challenge lies in getting everyone on the same page at a global level. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time and effort.

The greater goal is that an animal must have a good life during the phase in which it is producing food, that it is healthy and that it produces food efficiently by using raw materials that cause the least harm to the environment as possible. As a sector, we also need to ensure this all ties in as effectively as possible with the climate objectives, for example by replacing the soya imported from South America with responsibly produced soya or other high-protein raw materials from Europe, such as peas, field beans and rapeseed meal, or by using co-products from other industries.’