There are standards and labels for everything, but some of them deserve to be in the spotlight. This is the case of Code EFABAR, the code that shows direct commitment to responsible farm animal and aquaculture breeding. Code EFABAR, is a voluntary code of good practice in support of responsible and balanced breeding. Animal breeding is important for more sustainable and healthy food systems. The Code was founded back in 2006 and the content is updated every third year. The most recent version is from 2020, with improvements focusing on how European Animal Breeders contribute to the progress of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Currently, a number of breeding companies across Europe have adopted Code EFABAR, one of these companies is Hendrix Genetics. Hendrix Genetics is a multi-species breeding and genetics company that has been committed to Code EFABAR since 2009 for chickens, laying hens, turkeys, pigs and three aquaculture species.
Animal breeding and reproduction form a vital part of European food production systems. Throughout Europe millions of animals are involved in food production every year, including beef and dairy cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, laying hens and many different species of fish and shellfish. The implementation of modern animal breeding programmes by breeding companies, cooperatives, and organisations in Europe, focus on a balanced improvement of traits that aim to improve animal health and welfare, food safety and sustainability. The breeding practices that companies adopt directly impact the animals that farmers rear to provide sustainable, nutritious, and tasty food to EU citizens.
Johan van Arendonk works as the Chief Innovation and Technology Officer at Hendrix Genetics. Below, he has shared the views of Hendrix Genetics on why Code EFABAR is important for the animal breeding sector, sustainability and for society in a time where responsibility and transparency are questioned more than ever.
‘Breeding for a brighter future’ is the motto of Hendrix Genetics. Can you explain what it means?
Our aim is to contribute through high quality genetics to solving the global food challenge and that is something that all breeding companies are aiming to do. We know that through selective breeding, we can reduce the footprint of animal production, we can improve animal welfare and we can reduce the need for antibiotics. Genetics is really a powerful tool to improve sustainability of animals and protein production. It all comes with a responsibility. This is a responsibility to look after the genetic diversity that is available and to make sure that not only we, but also future generations can make changes to animal populations. That is where the Code EFABAR fits in. Animal breeding must be done in a responsible manner. Through Code EFABAR, we want to be transparent and say ‘Okay, this is what we do’. If people have questions, and yes, people do have questions on how we do this, we are more than happy to explain how we want to make that contribution. In this perspective, Code EFABAR really helps.
Do you experience a need for transparency from the sector?
I think that both the farmers, our sector and society look at us and question if genetic improvement is created in a responsible manner. They might question, “Do you pay enough attention to animal welfare, biosecurity and biodiversity?”. We express, address, and inform about these important questions in Code EFABAR and go into detail on how we pay attention. We must be transparent in the way we operate.
It sounds like, transparency is key.
Transparency is indeed key. We need to show that animal breeding is not only about reducing the footprint, but also about improving all the characteristics of the animal in a balanced manner. This counts not only for us but also for other EFFAB members active in this space. Better is not simply better in one characteristic, better refers to progress in many characteristics in a balanced manner. The second part is also about applying technologies and genetic diversity, which are also important. We are open about what we do in that space, because technologies offer new opportunities, like new breeding techniques, but they need to be applied in a responsible manner. This means, therefore, that with each new technology we need internal discussion, yes, but also discussion with farmers, stakeholders, and their customers, and not least society at large.
What does responsible and balanced breeding mean for Hendrix Genetics?
Let me take one species, otherwise it will be a bit complicated. If we look at laying hens, it means that we not only measure and select on traits like the number of eggs and feed efficiency, but we also pay attention in our selection to health, longevity – how long are birds able to live and produce- and do they keep the feathers, that is what we want. We want to have birds that, throughout their entire life, are covered by feathers. It is a large range of traits that we measure and take into our account in the selection to make sure that not only egg production is improved but also the other traits like health, quality of the eggs and liveability. That they all increase in the desired direction. That is how we in our programme select the animals for the next generation to make sure we make the improvement in a balanced manner. The right balance in traits that are important for farmers and for the animal.
Why is it important that animal breeders show responsibility for their part of the production process?
Animal breeding plays an important role in the entire animal production system. Every part of that system needs to take their responsibility. That is why it also applies to us. Through our programs, we contribute to an improvement of the sustainability of the production process. We have the responsibility when it comes to safeguarding genetic diversity because we are at the beginning of the production process. A lot of these populations are in our hands. Some of them might not be fitting for today, but they might fit in in 5 to 10 years from now, and it is our responsibility that we still have access to that diversity.
We would like to thank Johan van Arendonk for his participation and for giving his views on Code EFABAR.
Code EFABAR, sends a strong signal to the food supply chain and consumers about the responsibility held by animal breeders towards more sustainable animal farming, including animal welfare.