Editor’s note: This Part II in our series on agribusiness sustainability. In Part I (click here to read Part I), we defined sustainability. In Part II, we discuss how companies implement sustainable practices and encourage the practice to their customers. Part III will focus on the regulatory side and what research shows about future efforts on sustainability. 

One of the top lynchpins of sustainability for The Maschhoffs is animal welfare. Perennially important for the hog and feed operation in Carlyle, Ill., USA with 130,000 sows, this piece of sustainability is getting even more attention by company managers.

Additional rules have been implemented on the operation within the past two years alone. “We have a zero tolerance policy” for animal abuse, says Dr. Aaron Gaines, vice president, production resources and operations. Any documented case of animal abuse results in immediate termination of the employee.

Animal welfare reforms

The entire industry is taking animal welfare more seriously, since an incident in Iowa September 2008 when the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) obtained video footage of animals being treated in an unseemly manner. The reaction this incident received was a wake-up call to the industry that unless additional measures were taken pork consumption could be hurt, says Dr. Gaines. “We buckled down and took additional measures.”

Being good environmental stewards is also very high on The Maschhoffs’ list of dedication to sustainable practices.

“We’re in compliance through comprehensive nutrient management planning, and make sure we’re doing what we say we’re doing. In addition, we plan on going through the ISO process to certify that formal business processes around environmental management are being applied,” Dr. Gaines says. ISO is the International Organization for Standardization, a Geneva, Switzerland-based non-governmental organization (NGO) comprised of representatives of various standards organizations. The Maschhoffs is an industry leader in pursuing verifications that few in the hog and feed industries have done before.

Gaines says overall, the pork industry “has responded to the environmental challenge, but it’s nonetheless fair to say there is still room for improvement in some corners of the industry.
Reflecting on sustainability overall, he adds that the pork industry has become increasingly more sustainable by embracing new technologies that allow more pigs to be produced with fewer inputs.

Feed issues

On the feed side, Dr. Gaines says that The Maschhoffs’ operation is constantly improving quality through plant technology, like pelleting and extrusion, and through feed additives, such as the use of enzymes and other products, all of which make feed production more sustainable.

Especially important are new additives under development that will allow the use of feeds with more carbohydrates as the industry no longer has the luxury of using a corn/soya bean diet.

There is not yet a silver bullet on using distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS), “but I’m sure someone will come up with an enzyme for DDGS that improves nutrient digestibility,” says Dr. Gaines. “Given current biofuels policies, we will have to use alternative ingredients and biofuel coproducts.”

“We were feeding a high-energy, low-fiber diet, but now feed a high-fiber, lower energy diet—a complete switch (caused by biofuels).” He continues, “The days of corn and soya bean diets are over. As things change, you have to change with them. To not change makes you less sustainable. The fact is, we have become more like Europe with our diets.”

Food safety

One part of sustainability that will receive increasing focus, Dr. Gaines says, is food safety. The specific area the company is spending a lot of time on is food safety and process verification, the ability to trace feed from the feed mill to the farm site. “We want to know what’s in that feed and be confident it made it to the farm site,” he says. “We haven’t completed that loop, but we’re working on verification to the site.”

Part of The Maschhoffs dedication to food safety is to certify all its feed mills through the American Feed Industry Association’s (AFIA) Safe Feed/Safe Food program.

“It’s a big initiative you’ll see a lot more of,” Dr. Gaines says. “The result will be a higher standard within feed production facilities to guarantee the safety of our food supply.”

But none of these efforts are possible without a positive bottom line, Dr. Gaines stresses, which is tough in a year of H1N1, a slowdown of the world economy, and volatile grain prices.

As a result, sustainability has to include risk management options that allow producers to become more disciplined in dealing with market volatility on both the feed and hog market side.