Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ground turkey: off the sustainability menu

Cargill, salmonella, turkeys, one person dead, 77 reported sick, 36 million pounds of ground turkey meat recalled. If you are in the US, you can't have missed this story. One of the largest food product recalls in US history. The practice of adding antibiotics to animal feed is common in the US to maintain animal health and help animals grow more quickly and therefore become more productive. However, the claims are that antibiotic use eventually leads to animal resistance to the drugs and this can cause contamination which is passed on to humans. Also, consumption of antibiotic flavored meat and poultry can over time cause human resistance to certain antibiotic strains. The food safety issue is a complex one and this story shows highlights one of the most basic areas corporate responsibility for livestock food manufacturers. Antibiotic use in animal feed has been banned for use in Europe for some time. In the US, in June 2010, the FDA published draft guidance intended to help reduce the development of resistance to medically important antimicrobial drugs used in food-producing animals, but the practice is still widespread. The recommendation is that antibiotics should be administered to animals only to assure animal health and only under veterinarian supervision.

I had the opportunity to learn more about this issue during the past year while working with Fenton Communications to prepare a very interesting sustainabiilty report. The talented Fenton team led by Susan McPherson handled all the great design work and my role was researching and writing the report. I am referring to the 2010 Sustainability Report for Novus International, a privately-owned US-based global company and a world leader in animal nutrition and health, specializing in the development and manufacture of food additives and supplements for livestock.

Novus International has been around for twenty years with a vision of helping to feed the world affordable, wholesome food and achieve a higher quality of life. Novus products are truly innovative and support global sustainability needs to help deliver more, safe food to the increasing global population on track to reach 9 billion in 2050. The report is called Innovation with Integrity, and has is structured around some of the core, critical sustainability questions that Novus people ask themselves every day, for example:
  • How does Novus innovation increase global food availability?
  • How does Novus innovation contribute to improved nutrition?
  • How do we increase food capabilities for future generations through science and education?
  • What role does integrity play in running our business?
  • How do we inspire our employees to excellence with integrity?
  • How do we make a contribution to the global economy?
  • What are the priority sustainability issues for our stakeholders?
  • How do we collaborate with customers to meet their needs?
  • How do we make quality a top priority at Novus?
  • How do we ensure a sustainable supply chain?
  • How do we respect animal well-being?
  • How do we contribute to the sustainability of our communities?
  • How do we work to protect the environment?
Novus's Animal Health Programs and scientifically-developed products utilize dietary antioxidants and combinations of gut environment modifiers to naturally support beneficial bacteria, defeat harmful bacteria like salmonella and enhance digestion and absorption without reliance on antibiotics. Novus feed additives give livestock producers a choice to significantly reduce the amount of antibiotics used in livestock production and therefore reduce food safety risks.

Not only this, many Novus products increase the bioavailability of food that is fed to animals, therefore reducing the amount of feed necessary to maintain healthy and productive poultry and livestock. This has major environmental benefits as lower volumes of feed are required and lower volumes of waste are generated. Finally, all of this has a positive economic impact, helping farmers to reduce costs while increasing productivity. Novus works closely with thousands of customers in 100 countries to apply locally-relevant solutions for safe, healthy and cost-effective livestock food production. In emerging markets, this can enable small farmers to develop economic independence and a secure livelihood for themselves and their families, often raising the economic standards in entire villages and regions. 

The move away from broadscale use of antibiotics in farming just seems to make sense. Would you want to live on a permanent diet of antibiotics if you weren't actually sick? Why would you want your food to come from animals that have consumed vast quantities of antibiotics every day of their lives? Novus offers alternatives to this and and many other sustainability-critical questions relating to meat, poultry and fish production and consumption. And, as a highly engaged and responsive business, I am sure they would appreciate your feedback on their third Sustainability Report (GRI checked at Application Level B). 

On a personal note, I have to say it was a pleasure and a privilege working with the delightful Susan McPherson and Fenton and Novus on the production of this report. I personally interviewed a wide range of Novus people from the CEO, through to the entire Executive Leadership Team as well as Novus people throughout the world from China to India to Belgium to Spain to USA to Africa and more. In each conversation, I did not fail to be impressed with the sense of mission that each and every one displayed and their strong commitment to making the world a place in which food is safer, more available and affordable and offering higher nutritional benefits. Also, Chief Sustainability Officer, Joyce Cacho, PhD, drove the process to ensure absolute rigor in application of the GRI framework, which as any reporter knows, is not always the easy option. Keenly innovative, highly conscious of social and environmental issues, aligned behind an imperative of integrity, systematic, responsive and clear on priorities, I was left convinced that Novus International is a business which is run on embedded sustainability principles and practices.

Now, I wonder how many antibiotics my daily dose of ice-cream contains.... 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my business website  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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