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Get the low down on responsible soy

15th November 2016

With mainline retailers expected to publish their policies on responsibly sourced soy imminently, now is the time to learn and understand what is actually meant by responsible soy.   

ABN’s Senior Raw Materials Manager, Hugh Burton, answers questions on the key facts pig and poultry producers need to know about this important topic.

Q. Why is soy such a vital raw material for the pig and poultry industry?

A. “It’s not soy in its raw form, but soybean meal that is the primary protein source currently used in pig and poultry diets. 85% of the world’s soybean is processed into meal and oil. 98% of the meal is then used in animal feed, highlighting this is a raw material in great demand within the global feed industry.

“The nutritional composition of soybean meal means it can provide a concentrated package of essential amino acids that are readily available to animals, as well as being a consistent and reliable raw material.

“It’s these characteristics that make soy a desirable and cost-effective dietary inclusion. It’s generally at the heart of every commercial ration ABN produce, and is such a vital raw material that we rely on to support animal performance throughout their life.”

Q. Where is the majority of soy grown?

A. “The USA, Brazil, Argentina as well as China and India are where the majority of soy is grown in the world.

“For 2016/17, global production is predicted to reach 333.22 million tonnes, representing a 6.5% production increase on last year.

“Of this, the USA is predicted to produce 116 million tonnes, Brazil 102 million tonnes and Argentina 57 million tonnes. 

“Within Europe, more and more soy is being grown, with Italy leading the way on this. And even in the UK there are small attempts to grow soy with mixed results.

“But, as climate is such a key factor in growing soy, this is a crop that the UK environment can’t currently support, and the scale of production is very unlikely to ever reach a point where it can support the UK’s demand for soy.”

Q. Is soy quality affected by growing location?

A. “Yes, is the simple answer.

“Like other raw materials, composition and quality of the soy used to produce the meal is influenced by several factors. Therefore, the country of origin is certainly a key consideration when sourcing soy due to the impact from different climatic conditions and the varieties grown.

“For example, we often find that soy produced in north Brazil has a much higher protein content compared to that grown in the south of Brazil or Argentina.

“Therefore, we tend to find the poultry meat sector use soy from north Brazil, due to the need for high quality protein to support bird performance. Whereas, the pig and ruminant sectors tend to use Argentine or US soy as a more cost effective option.”      

 Q. What are the challenges and concerns around sourcing soy?

A. “Global soybean production has increased by 500% in the last 40 years. The steady rise is a direct result of an increase in the consumption of livestock products in developing and emerging countries, and also down to soy becoming an increasingly important component of human nutrition.

“Historically, in order to meet this rising demand, more ecologically valuable land especially in South America, such as rainforests and the Cerrado, have been used to grow soy, and there have been other issue relating to land ownership, which are not sustainable.

“We’re working towards establishing a balance where demand can be met, but without the negative impact that has historically been associated with soy.”  

Q.  Why is there such a demand for responsibly sourced soy?

A. “Principally, consumer awareness and NGO pressure related to where and how soy is grown, has caused retailers and processors to react and seek sustainable solutions.  

“Hence there is increased demand further down the supply chain for responsible sourcing to supply an end product that meets the standards consumers, and the wider market are demanding.”    

Q. What is meant by the term ’responsibly sourced soy’?

A. “In simple terms, the phrase ‘responsibly sourced’, relates to sustainable agriculture. In a nut shell, this means that raw materials are produced in a safe and responsible way, in consideration of the environment, social welfare and legal compliance.”   

Q. What is being done to ensure there is more responsibly sourced soy available?

A. “One of the challenges the industry has faced in the past has been the many variations of the definition of sustainability, and equally, many existing certification schemes and programmes for responsible soy. This has previously caused confusion and inconsistency within the industry.

“In order to develop a level of clarity within the industry, and to enable a mass market solution, in August 2015, the European Feed Manufacturers' Federation (FEFAC), whose Sustainability Committee is chaired by Angela Booth, AB Agri Director of Feed Safety, published the first version of the FEFAC soy sourcing guidelines. These define the criteria required for imported responsible soy to the European market.

“The purpose of the FEFAC guidelines are to provide an industry benchmark, which provides assurance that all growers are producing crops to the standards of the scheme they are part of, which have been independently approved to the these guidelines.

“Ultimately, the aim is to establish a level of consistency, and help the industry move forward together, rather than relying on niche schemes, in order to provide an economical mass market solution for responsibly sourced soy. 

“For anyone specifying them, the FEFAC guidelines will provide firm assurance that they’re comfortably meeting the demand for responsible soy, in order to help meet their wider sustainability targets.

“So far, there are 15 industry schemes, that have been approved by ITC (the International Trade Centre) to meet the FEFAC guidelines, which involve soy growers complying to standards based on legal compliance, responsible working conditions, environmental responsibility, good agricultural practices, respect for land rights and maintaining good community relations.

“It’s hoped that more schemes will become FEFAC approved in the near future to help to continue to move this initiative forward.

“This is an important step for the industry, and it’s vital we get buy in from the whole supply chain.”

Q. What impact will the FEFAC guidelines have on pig and poultry producers?

A. “The greatest impact will be for soy growers and the supply chain in South America, North America and Europe who will now have a range of different schemes available to them, all of which meet the FEFAC criteria.

“However, pig and poultry producers may be concerned over the cost premium this could add to overall feed costs.

“But, as a mass market solution this is helping to control the cost in the supply chain, keeping any increases at a minimum.

“The aim of the FEFAC guidelines is to avoid additional costs in the supply chain by building a critical mass of volume, reducing the need to impose onerous restrictions, but ensuring at each stage there is adherence to the guidelines and that this can be proven.”

Q. What do the FEFAC guidelines mean for retailers?

A. “Retailers and other businesses are likely to start specifying that certain product lines will need to comply with responsible sourcing guidelines for the soy in feed used to produce livestock products as part of their 2020 visions, and corporate social responsibility (CSR).  

“For example, Marks and Spencer have recently released their policy requiring major soy-using livestock suppliers of pigs, poultry and farmed fish to source soy-containing feed to a standard that meets the requirements of the FEFAC soy sourcing guidelines.

“It will therefore be the responsibility of producers to conform to these sourcing guidelines, in order to continue to supply retailers and win new contracts.”

Q. What should pig and poultry producers do to stay ahead?

A. “It’s likely that more retailers will introduce responsible sourcing requirements sooner rather than later, and therefore making sure you understand what responsible soy means, will be key.

“Speak to your feed supplier about these changes and build your understanding on the subject, so when retailer customers contact you about these potential changes you’re knowledgeable about the topic and know your options.

“ABN already buys more than half its soya from responsible sources, both in support of its own brands and in response to customer demand. By continuing to work internally, and with customers and suppliers, we aim to continue to increase the proportion of responsible soy sourced toward an ultimate goal of 100%

“This is a really important topic for pig and poultry producers that, in the past, has not been at the top of the priority list. But, with changes expected very soon, this is something producers should be starting to get to grips with.”