EPC 2010 - European Conference Takes a Global View

FRANCE - Plenary sessions over the last two days at the European Poultry Congress (EPC) have taken a view of the poultry industry beyond Europe's borders, writes Jackie Linden, editor of ThePoultrySite.
calendar icon 25 August 2010
clock icon 6 minute read

With the growing interest and study of the environmental impacts of food production, it was appropriate that the very first plenary lecture in the 13th EPC in Tours, France, should cover ways to assess the effects of poultry production on the Earth and its resources.

Environmental Impacts

A variety of methods have been proposed for this assessment, explained the presenter, Dr Hayo van der Werf of the INRA institute in Rennes. He stressed how vital these methods are in guiding the evolution of more sustainable agricultural production.

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is particularly interesting, he said, because it is based on internationally recognised procedures and it can be applied across all sectors of the economy, from raw material acquisition through production, use, end-of-life treatment, recycling and finally, disposal.

Dr van der Werf concluded that, while LCA may not provide all the answers, it is a useful tool to analyse the eco-efficiency of production technologies for the development of more sustainable farming systems.

He summarised by saying that LCA is "a good way for looking outside current farming systems".

Competition for Land Use

'Competition for land use between different production alternatives' was the title taken by Rabobank International's Dr Nan-Dirk Mulder for his plenary lecture. He covered the choices in land use between animal and plant products and between food, feed and biofuels.

He explained that this is a challenging topic and very topical, following the tightening of the supply/demand situation in global food markets as the result of the drought across Russia and central Europe this summer.

Following a period of generally steady prices for maize, wheat, rice and soy between 2000 and 2006, they have become much more volatile in recent years – the result of growing demand and a tight supply situation. Over the next five to 10 years, he predicts continuing price volatility for these crucial feed ingredients, and average prices above historical levels.

"Dealing with volatility will be the key success factor in future for the whole value chain," he said.

In the next 10 years, demand will increase by around 20 per cent – a formidable target. This is the biggest challenge for the food industry, but Dr Mulder says it could be achieved by brining into production arable land that is currently unused as well as by improvements in efficiency.

Dr Mulder sounded a warning about water issues. While North and Latin America are generally well supplied with water, there are worrying signs of imminent shortages developing in a number of areas, including China. As a result, he expects trade patterns to shift in the coming years as product is exported from the Americas to Asia.

He sees the second important challenge for the industry from corporate social responsibility, which is moving up priority lists as climate changes continue to hit the headlines. In this respect, poultry products are well placed as they lead to lower emissions per kilo of product than beef or pork.

In conclusion, Dr Mulder said growing demand for meat will cause emphasis to be put on yields throughout the value chain, while volatility in feed ingredient prices is likely to continue for some years to come. Waves of protectionism and disease could impact trade, while consumer concerns will continue to gain much attention. For poultry companies, consolidation is likely to continue and companies based in developing countries will make gains, Dr Mulder predicted.

Threat of Avian Influenza

The first plenary lecture at EPC today was given by Dr Ian Brown of the UK's Veterinary Laboratories Agency. He described the current threats of avian influenza (AI) to animal health. He explained that over the last decade, there have been numerous threats to animal health in the EU from influenza.

Focusing mainly on the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) caused by the H5N1 subtype of the virus, this is a devastating disease has had a huge economic impacts, he said, estimated to run to billions of Euros, just in the EU.

The primary source of AI is from wild birds, he explained, as the viruses have bene isolated from almost all species of bird. These low-pathogenic forms may then spread to poultry, where, they may cause some depression and loss of performance that may even go unnoticed. However, some infections then mutuate into the highly pathogenic form, which can cause devastating losses to the poultry industry, directly and indirectly. Occasionally, infection is spread to humans. Once established, infection is most often spread between poultry units by a shared workforce or equipment, and live bird markets still pose a threat.

Dr Brown went on to say AI continues to present many challenges and although a variety of controls are available, prevention is key. Globalisation as well as less intensive and outdoor husbandry methods add to the challenge. Global eradication of HPAI now looks unlikely, he concluded.

Avian Genomics

In today's other plenary lecture, Dr Alain Vignal of INRA's animal genetics gave an overview of the recent outcomes and future prospects arising from avian genomics. The term 'genomics' first appeared in the 1980s, he said, with the mapping and sequencing of genes on a global scale (the genome)and it has since expanded to cover the study of all genes, their products and their interactions in a cell or tissue under difference physiological conditions.

The chicken genome was sequenced and published in 2004, and those of the turkey and duck are expected soon.

Most chicken genomics studies so far have included whole genome re-sequencing approaches, so that nucleotide polymorphisms are now contributing to the implementation of marker-assisted and genomic selection. Further work on the gene networks is leading to better understanding of the biology of all avian species, Dr Vignal concluded.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item from EPC 2010 by clicking here.

Further Reading

- You can visit the Avian Flu page by clicking here.
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