The International Egg Commission chairwoman, Joanne Ivy, welcomed over 320 of the egg industry's leaders and decision makers from around the world to the commission's Madrid conference at the beginning of April. During her opening address, she stressed the importance of corporate social responsibility, telling delegates: "The International Egg Commission defines corporate social responsibility as balancing the needs of people, animals and the planet." The commission, on behalf of the global egg industry, takes its corporate social responsibility very seriously. Joanne Ivy told delegates: "We are passionate about our corporate social responsibility: We are passionate about producing safely the highest quality protein; feeding the growing population and ensuring food affordability; providing choice; caring for the environment; and ensuring the health and well-being of our hens."
Figures from the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization show that during the next 40 years the global population will rise by 2 billion, to 9 billion people. Africa will double its population, growing from 1 billion to 2 billion people, and Asia will increase from 4.1 billion to 5.1 billion. There is already great demand in emerging economies, emerging Asian countries in particular, for foods with higher protein. Marketing expert, Professor David Hughes, posed the question: Is this an excellent opportunity for food marketing, or a social dilemma? Although he went on to say that, it may actually be a combination of the two, when combined with continuing decline in red meat consumption, he believes "this combination of factors conspires to provide big opportunities for eggs".
Professor Louise Fresco, from the University of Amsterdam, also spoke in detail about the pressure on the food industry as the population rises. She told the commission: "There is probably no sector that is of more importance when it comes to the issue of future protein supply to the world."
Fresco told delegates that although the need for a sustainable food supply is a major challenge, she believes the egg industry is right to focus on corporate social responsibility issues as a whole, also stressing the need to find a balance between food safety, sustainability, and animal welfare. "We need a solution, or at least a balance – the perception of animal welfare on one side and sustainability on the other … I believe efficiency is key to sustainability. Not using resources wisely, particularly resources that are becoming scarce, is a bad idea."
Fresco told the commission that despite the fact that "food is safer now than ever," there are still concerns within some Western middle classes regarding food safety issues; she concluded her presentation to the commission by urging the sector to take responsibility and proactively communicate the positive messages to consumers.
The need for better communication with consumers, and to educate them about the safety of their food, was also stressed by Dr. Alejandro Thiermann, from the World Organization for Animal Health. Thiermann spoke about poultry animal health challenges in a globalized world. He stressed the importance of working with credible and competent veterinary services, and urged everyone in the egg industry to consider animal health in a more holistic way.
Thiermann told the commission that he would also like to see the food industry take a more proactive approach when communicating with consumers, instead of being forced to react to what he described as, expensive communication campaigns instigated by animal rights non-governmental organizations. Thiermann encouraged the industry to increase consumer confidence in food safety and animal welfare by collaborating with veterinary services on a joint, proactive communications strategy. He told the commission that it is never too soon to begin communicating with consumers about the safety of their food; rather than waiting until a crisis strikes, the industry needs to be better prepared, and help to shape public perception in advance.
Dr. Tjeerd Kimman, from the Central Veterinary Institute at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, shared his expertise on avian influenza, a decade after the outbreak in The Netherlands. He told the commission delegates that his most important message for them was preparation, saying: "Not only preparation of risk, but also preparation of diagnosis and disease control". He said early detection and early awareness are critical: be prepared for new outbreaks and be prepared for the unexpected.
Over 320 delegates, from 30 different countries, gathered at the commission Madrid conference in Spain. Spain is home to one of the largest egg industries within Europe, and provided a perfect setting for the international industry leaders to discuss the latest issues and trends affecting their industry globally. During the conference, delegates in Madrid heard from Esperanza Orellana, Deputy Director General of Production and Agricultural Markets for Spain's Ministry of Agriculture, and Maria del Mar Fernandez Poza, from Spain's INPROVO.
Maria del Mar Fernandez Poza shared the lessons the European Union producers have learned as a result of the recent implementation of legislation for keeping laying hens. Maria del Mar told the commission that the move to enriched cages has provided an excellent balance, and become a huge asset and in their favor. She explained that the industry has gained great credibility; it is now seen as an industry prepared to encompass public opinion, one that is committed to consumer needs and good animal welfare, and offers quality products at a good price.
This September the commission will hold its five-day Annual Marketing and Production Conference in Cape Town, South Africa; then in 2014, the International Egg Commission will celebrate its 50th anniversary in Buenos Aires, Argentina.