Does the Future Hold Difficulty or Opportunity?

By Alan von Tunzelman, President, World Renderers Organization

Winston Churchill said that, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” This is particularly appropriate for the rendering industry.

Since the establishment of the World Renderers Organization (WRO) a decade ago, there have been few periods when the rendering industry has not been confronted with difficulties. In fact, the biggest difficulty the industry ever faced led to the formation of the WRO in the first place.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and the many complications it created, was the reason for the establishment of the WRO, providing the international rendering community a collective voice when confronted with major issues. Even today, BSE still presents huge challenges in some countries, particularly in Europe, Canada, the United States, and several other countries that have experienced the disease.

But science, technology, much hard work, and the strict adherence to sound protocols have reduced the initial consequences of BSE, and indeed all transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. The rendering industry seems to be in a manageable situation at present, but needs to heed the lessons learned and adhere strictly to the established protocols.

When perception drives the public mind, no science or technology can overcome a frequently repeated negative 15 second sound bite. Let’s have no more undesirable sound bites as we maximize the use of rendered products for the good of humanity (and renderers) in the years ahead. It is encouraging to see the European Fat Processors and Renderers Association working in this area.

After a long period of animal protein meals from many countries being unacceptable in any animal diets, especially in the European Union, it now seems possible that the careful reintroduction of some meals of animal origin – specifically, chicken, feather, and porcine – may take place. Ultimately, the WRO may target the reintroduction of ruminant meals from BSE countries into appropriate diets for some animal species under careful guidance from qualified experts and with great prudence from responsible renderers.

Since BSE, the rendering industry, like many others, has been burdened by an excess of regulations introduced by a battalion of bureaucrats who seem to regulate for regulation’s sake. Don’t get me wrong: the WRO supports sensible, science-based regulation that enhances the goal of making rendered products safer for consumers. Recent European moves towards simplification are overdue. As animal feed products get closer to human food items, greater regulation is inevitable. We can work with this.

But like many industries, the rendering industry is much better at reacting to what has happened than preparing for what is likely to happen.

So let’s look to the future. At two recent conferences I attended, the Global Aquaculture Alliance conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the National Renderers Association (NRA) conference in Naples, FL, there was a recurring theme relating to the future of the rendering industry. World Bank experts and speakers from other eminent bodies have all said the following.

• A new middle class is emerging (predominantly in Asia), with more people having greater disposable income and a desire for better nutrition.

During the past two decades, over one billion people in China, India, and other developing countries have achieved Western middle class levels of income and meat consumption. This has a direct influence on demand for suitable feed ingredients. China’s growth is understood, but India is likely to grow even faster than China over the next decade.

• The global population will increase to nine billion people by 2050.

There are some possibilities for future agricultural expansion to meet the needs of a larger population. Brazil, Russia, India, and China all theoretically have suitable land available, together with reliable water supplies.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, countries in Southeast Asia also have the potential to have a huge impact. Indonesia already has a vast aquaculture industry. Poultry production and consumption are expected to increase at a rapid rate, although religious and political influences will limit expansion opportunities for red meat and pigs. Vietnam, though much smaller, already has a voracious appetite for red meat. Farming is transitioning from the backyard to an industrial scale, and feed that has traditionally been farmyard scraps and household waste is moving to manufactured feed. This will create a greater need for protein ingredients.

Meanwhile, red meat production is nowhere nearly as efficient as poultry and aquaculture in converting protein into human foodstuffs. Indeed, as oceans continue to be depleted, aquaculture has now surpassed the wild fish catch in terms of tonnages produced.

The reality is that in most of the above countries, rapid population escalation is reducing the availability of both land and water for agricultural purposes.

• Sustainability has become hugely important.

Until about the year 2000, there seemed to be an abundant supply of arable land, water, fossil fuels, and fertilizer. Since then it has become obvious that the above resources are much more limited than first thought. As the global population increases and the middle class demand for high protein food rises, finite resources are likely to come under even more pressure.

According to Rabobank figures, in 1960 there was 0.45 hectare of food production land available for each person on the planet. Today this has fallen to 0.23 hectare, and it is forecast to drop to 0.18 by 2050.

Agriculture currently uses three-fourths of the earth’s fresh water. In 40 years, twice the food that is now produced will be needed, but there will not be twice the land or twice the water. We therefore need to learn how to sustainably exploit limited resources – the current use of protein meals from rendering is a classic example of opportunities not being utilized for maximum benefit.

• The perception of climate change is influencing decisions.

It has been easy and convenient to blame climate change for a whole range of problems, most notably depletion of the rain forests and drought-driven crop failures. This is unfair. The more significant factor is probably that demand growth has rapidly outpaced international productivity increases. Thus a drought today has much more severe consequences than one in the 1980s of equal severity because of the much greater international demand for agricultural commodities and the much lower stored stocks of these commodities.

Nonetheless, in terms of future decision-making perception, it is effectively reality.

Research organizations in many countries are grappling with the above issues and huge advances have been made in animal nutrition, crop selection and production, and in turning waste into useful energy. Unfortunately, it seems that the population explosion is outpacing the best scientific efforts.

The rendering industry must continue to support the efforts of the team at the Fats and Proteins Research Foundation who work for all renderers.

Traditional farming in the developed world will probably come under increasing pressure as the economics of this activity become hard to sustain. It is easier and much cheaper to produce food from poultry and aquaculture than from farm-raised pigs, beef, sheep, and goats. We are fortunate that in several of the developing countries there is a desire to expand consumption of pigs and beef, representing continued hope for those industries that have been the backbone of many countries’ agricultural endeavours for generations.

As renderers, how can we best meet the likely challenges of the future? There is no single revolutionary change enabling the industry to dramatically increase its output, but I do see continual incremental improvements as possible and recommend that focus be put on the following: waste minimization; energy efficiency; adding value to what is already produced; and diversifying some products into more appropriate outputs.

The rendering industry has an important role to play as it heads into the future. It is time to promote this, but to get the greatest benefits, it is critical that all industry participants comply with existing regulations relating to the use of meals from ruminant proteins in animal diets.

National bodies, regional organizations, and the WRO itself are working to maximize the safe use of rendered products. Years of hard work can be undone at the stroke of a pen if someone is irresponsible enough to think they can make a quick buck by sliding non-complying product into a market where surveillance is lax and a buyer is just as irresponsible. The last thing we need is some rogue producer, marketer, or feed miller undoing the hard work that has been done. The future holds great opportunities for rendered products if we are patient and sensible.

Become involved in your national rendering organization, and encourage others to do likewise. The WRO has completed the initial establishment stages of its organization and now needs regular input to ensure that we travel in a direction that matches everyone’s best interests.

Here is my challenge to you: help us create a strategy and road map for WRO to follow. This should enable rendered products to make the most worthwhile contribution possible in the years to come. Bruce Ross and Kent Swisher of the NRA have already put time into the preparation of a discussion document that the WRO committee will use as a blueprint for the WRO’s direction in the future.

The volume of material the global rendering industry is able to contribute to the international protein pool is vastly greater than is currently being used, and our contribution to a hungry world can be very significant. Do you see the difficulty in this opportunity, or the vast opportunity in this difficulty? I’m optimistic that our industry can fulfill the high expectations I have for it – you should be too.

Now get up and do something about it!

International Report – February 2011 RENDER | back