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QUALITY, CONTROLS AND BALANCE DISTINGUISH ITALIAN ANIMAL FEED
It is a sector which is “pulverised” into around 600 operators and which in 2007 had a product of 14.2 million tons of animal feed compound for animal farming, bringing about a growth of 3.6% in volume compared to the previous year. The lion’s share of the total is intended for the aviculture sector (5.2 million tons), followed by cattle (4.2 million), pigs (3.2 million) and other animals, that is to say rabbits, sheep, fish, horses and domestic pets (1.6 million). The turnover of the sector – which employs around 8,500 employees – reached 6.05 billion Euros.
But what are the sector’s strengths? Lea Pallaroni, secretary general of the sector’s trade association Assalzoo (www.assalzoo.it) responds: “Thanks also to a steady alignment with European regulations, we have over time developed quality systems, greater controls over incoming raw materials and higher levels of investment in making the production chain more efficient”. But there is more. The members of Assalzoo are implementing a manual of best practices which is recognised by the appropriate ministries, that is to say either the ministry of Agriculture or Health. “The manual – explains Pallaroni – sets out a systematic approach to controls and consistent procedures of action”.
But the Italian animal feed industry offers even more. “We make use of well-qualified professionals - explains the secretary general of Assalzoo – who are able to create balanced formulations and improve the qualitative and organoleptic properties of meats”. The raw material being mixed is in large part imported. 93% of soy (which forms the major source of protein within animal feed for farming) is acquired from overseas, while 15% of the maize used for animal nutrition is imported. Wheat also comes from across the border. “As a rule – asserts Pallaroni – imported raw materials equate to around half of the total used. It is obvious that only efficient system controls allow the safety of animal feed to be safeguarded”.
But if Italy imports raw material (in 2007 imports increased by 3.7%) it does on the other hand export finished product. And it does so at far superior rates: last year the amounts exported increased by 8.8%. “Above all – explains the secretary general of Assalzoo – we export value-added products, with ‘pre-mixes’ in first place. These relate to preparations of vitamins and minerals which complete the mix of animal feed, enrich it and make it balanced. As they are sold in reduced quantities, they also occupy less space and minimise transportation costs”. Another Italian product which has been successful abroad is animal feed for fish (aquaculture) and for the nutrition of domestic pets. “Products aimed at fish farming – stresses Pallaroni – require a high level of specialisation which the industry in Italy is capable of providing. Fish farming is a niche business which is growing at very attractive rates. In 2007 the destination market which grew the most was Greece”.
On the other hand, the driving sectors of the Italian animal feed industry remain aviculture and cattle, as the 2007 numbers certify. “In aviculture farming – highlights the secretary general of Assalzoo – we are able to guarantee complete self-sufficiency: we produce more chicken meat than we consume”. But these two types of farming have experienced serious crises in recent years: mad cow disease and avian flu. These are phenomena which only lightly skirted Italy in the case of BSE and which were demonstrated as literally non-existent in the case of avian flu. But they did generate real panic. And it was precisely the animal feed industry that was seen as the main culprit, especially for BSE. “It is a fact that there was an irrational sensitivity associated with the two phenomena, but BSE also put new scientific evidence in front of us. And, in the midst of the crisis, our sector also ended up in the dock. But the spread of mad cow disease in Italy was extremely rare and statistically absolutely negligible. And today the Italian animal feed industry boasts a control system which is amongst the best in Europe. Credit also goes to the EU, whose efforts in the area of food safety and in making producers take responsibility have borne the expected fruits. Themes like prevention and knowledge of the material are very much more advanced today than ten years ago”, concludes the secretary general of Assalzoo.