Poultry industry executives from a record 21 countries gathered recently in Geneva to discuss common issues and to hear presentations on trade, the economy, and the environment from a slate of high-level speakers at the International Poultry Council (IPC) Second Semester Conference for 2013. Industry representatives discussed several key issues, including developing a strategy for dispelling the misconception that hormones are used in poultry production, pushing for an end to the term "bird flu" as a euphemism for avian influenza, and finding common ground on electrical stunning procedures.
"This was one of the best meetings the organization has ever had," said IPC President Jim Sumner. "We had a great cross-section of members, an excellent slate of speakers, and some good discussion of issues that our members consider to be important."
Sumner, who has presided over the IPC since its inception eight years ago, said that the organization seems to be coming of age. "Our members truly take the IPC seriously and are beginning to develop some solidarity on some of our key issues," he said.
Members of the IPC, who are concerned that polls showing a majority of consumers believe that chickens and turkeys are given hormones to promote growth, are in favor of mounting a global campaign to dispel the hormone myth.
Some members also say that continued usage of the generic term "bird flu" in the media and by government agencies during avian influenza outbreaks generates fear among consumers that eating poultry is somehow dangerous. Members agree that the IPC should campaign for an official change in terminology from "avian influenza" to simply "influenza."
The Chinese poultry industry estimates that the recent occurrence of influenza H7N9 earlier this year cost producers more than $60 million in sales, as continuous reports of "bird flu" caused consumers to forego poultry altogether.
Four country member representatives took part in a panel discussion on electrical stunning procedures as proscribed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and as practiced in the European Union. An IPC committee, headed by Dr. Vivien Kite of the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, is calling on the OIE to adopt guidelines in its animal welfare chapter for electrical stunning that are outcomes-based, rather than the prescriptive procedures used by the EU.
Joining Kite in the panel discussion were Ricardo Santin of the Brazilian Association of Poultry Exporters, Dr. Shelly McKee of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, and Cees Vermeeren of a.v.e.c., the EU poultry association.
The IPC Executive Committee also presented a proposal to the membership to hire a consultant to monitor policy issues affecting the poultry industry in global organizations like the OIE, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.
In a keynote address to the IPC, WTO Deputy Director General David Shark said that the upcoming 9th WTO ministerial, set for December in Bali, is critical to the success of the organization and its goals. "Bali is critical. A lot of countries are worried," he said. "Can the organization negotiate?"
Shark, speaking as a fill-in for WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo, said that the package up for negotiation in Bali "has tremendous potential to help businesses in developed and developing countries," and "will deal with the costly red tape" that hampers effective international trade.
"It's a small package for Bali, but small doesn't mean insignificant," he said. "But the problem we're facing is that we're running out of time. Can we succeed? Absolutely. Will we succeed? The next two weeks will tell."
Success in getting an agreement in Bali would "build hope and trust that the WTO moves forward," he said.
Shark was asked what the numerous multilateral free trade agreements currently under negotiation, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, mean for the future of the WTO.
"Those are certainly two large agreements, but so was the Common Market for the EU, which didn't put (the WTO) out of business," he said. "I don't think (FTAs) eclipse the WTO, because they don't negotiate things like domestic support in the regional agreements."
In a well-received presentation on the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, former USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond told IPC delegates that regulations governing usage should "be based on facts and biological science, not political science."
As an example, Raymond pointed out that although food-borne illnesses in the U.S. over the last decade are down nearly 30 percent, media hits on food recalls have risen by 250 percent during the same period.
Raymond said that calls for banning the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture are rising, with blame being cast on agriculture for the increase in antibiotic-resistant infections. But, he said that the vast majority of antibiotics used in animal agriculture are not used in human medicine.
"There's a lot of misinformation going around on the antibiotics issues," he said.
The IPC, in fact, adopted a resolution two years ago supporting the continued judicious use of antibiotics in poultry production.
In a "big-picture outlook" of the poultry and feed situation over the next five years, Rabobank's Nan-Dirk Mulder said that industries should be prepared for volatility in grain markets to continue, along with volatile exchange rates. "The great volatility challenge is the greatest challenge the industry will face in the years ahead," he said. "More difficult trade conditions will push companies to invest abroad."
Companies must manage volatility "by improving efficiency, managing risk, managing the value chain and improving their standing in the marketplace," Mulder said.
Meanwhile, growth in poultry markets is driven by emerging markets, and demand is shifting to the emerging world. Internationalization, Mulder said, is a trend - exemplified by the acquisition of Smithfield by the Chinese company Shanghui - that has taken hold over the last five years. "Lots of strategic thinking is going on, and (in five years) the global protein outlook will be much different because of all these factors," he said. "But, poultry is still the winning protein."
Trade lawyer Gary Horlick said that with the 200 or so FTAs currently in negotiation around the world, it "sets a clear path for tariffs to go down, which means there will be an increase in SPS (sanitary, phyto-sanitary) issues," along with the possibility of more anti-dumping cases.
The WTO's recent decision against China in its anti-dumping case against U.S. chicken is significant, Horlick said, as it should send a clear message to other countries that bringing anti-dumping cases is ill-advised.
Horlick said that the trade community generally regards anti-dumping actions to be "thinly disguised protectionism." He advised industries targeted with anti-dumping actions by trading partners to be prepared. "Three things you'll need," Horlick said. "A legal team at home and in the country taking the action; a media team, and a political team."