By Jim Tozer, Managing Director of Kenchic
Thinking about the future of food security in our region brings me straight to an absolutely certain starting point.
And that’s the change that will happen as we move forward. Technologies change and will continue to change, circumstances will change and ideas will change.
At Kenchic, our way of thinking is changing and this affects both food culture and business. This is driven by the changing ideas and perceptions that will drive changes in our industries.
If we look at our first principle, which is that the consumer has the right to know and fully understand how the food they eat is produced, and will therefore place demands on the producers, ultimately it is the consumer who will set standards in the food sector and create change.
This is a very different scenario from the past where awareness was lacking. Food safety and health fears in developed countries from the 1980s played a key role in the change. Consumers were unaware of food production methods and there was also a distinct lack of food safety standards. Food producers could generally do whatever they wanted.
The food retail trade had to accept its position as one of the main partners of these food production companies. Competition between large food distributors was primarily aimed at lowering food prices to attract consumers, which put immense pressure on producers to produce again at the lowest cost.
This led to massive overuse of antibiotics, even if an animal was not sick, because they grew faster and cost less when antibiotics were used. So farmers started using antibiotics indiscriminately – in feed or directly – and there was no framework, legislation or standards to govern these practices. The impact was that some antibiotics that humans needed to protect themselves became ineffective.
Another instance where food safety was not a priority was when bovine sponigiform encephalopathy – or as we know it as mad cow disease – emerged when feeding beef and flour. of bone containing BSE infected products from a spontaneous BSE case of sheep products. What was scariest about it was that it was passed on to some humans, whose nervous system and brain were affected just like animals.
I could go on for a long time on other food safety failures, but it must be understood that at the time, we were not really aware of the potential consequences. Concerns have been raised, but a lack of regulatory procedures and, to be honest, naivety, has allowed these production methods to endure.
Once science really understood the links between certain production methods and their harmful effects on food security and human health, the world woke up. The media jumped on the stories, which raised consumer awareness and which, in turn, led to regulatory scrutiny. The Food Standards Authority in the UK was quickly formed along with similar bodies in most developed countries.
Traceability and food production audits have emerged. The whole process from farm to fork, plow to plate was born – consumers were now beginning to gain confidence and an understanding that the food they were buying was produced correctly, was healthy and, most importantly, trustworthy. That’s why Kenchic has taken a farm-to-fork approach, which means every egg we hatch, every chicken we raise, and every piece of meat we process is traceable.
This is not only good agricultural practice, but a moral aspect has emerged – that of animal welfare standards. Many now believe that animals should be treated with respect regarding their naturalness and behavior.
But all this does not mean that there have not been problems, especially regarding violations of good agricultural practices.
While consumer awareness has increased, food chain traceability is still lacking. Horsemeat has been found in “100%” ground beef, interestingly traced using DNA methods. The movement of animals from one country to another, without an audit trail, has allowed traders to cover their tracks to trace the origin of food. It was only 10 years ago, in Europe.
Apart from that, a standardization of food production and processing has taken place. Each primary agricultural producer, in order to access markets, must adhere to clear and established standards. This is also expected of processors and retailers.
So where are we in Africa?
Our region and Africa in general are rapidly adopting technologies that have been developed and tested elsewhere. It sinks in and sets in quickly without its initial glitches. More importantly, the continent is now developing its own technology – Africa is learning fast.
Freedom and ease of travel, easy access to international media and, more recently, the development of social and digital platforms, mean we are in a truly global space – news travels fast
International brands – in food retail, quick service restaurants and hotels with private equity investments continue to invest, and this comes with their rigorous international standards.
But there is still a clear lack of consumer awareness – an ill-informed understanding of safe food production methods and standards.
The standards are there, but they are not imposed in a fair and consistent way. To achieve this, a level playing field must be achieved, which means that all producers must be held to the same standards.
In addition, these standards must be clearly communicated to consumers so that they know their rights.
Kenchic has always adhered to global standards. As the largest chicken producer in the region, we have sought and achieved the highest possible international ratings for food safety, including being a top diamond producer by global standards, according to YUM Brands, which is the group that owns KFC and Dominos Pizza.
Our factory has also achieved the highest possible global certification for food processors. We have an in-house laboratory, the only one of its kind in the region. This ensures that we test our products before they go to market to exclude antibiotic residues and microbial contamination that could cause foodborne illnesses such as typhoid, among others.
Our processing plant products undergo rigorous quality checks, both in-house and at the state level, and they are kept in a cold chain until the minute they land on your table, and c is our promise to our consumers.
We ensure that all of our farms and hatcheries adhere to the strictest biosecurity and animal welfare protocols established by reputable global organizations, such as the World Organization for Animal Health. For more than 25 years, we have been able to audit our entire process according to international standards.
Additionally, Kenchic believes that animal welfare is an integral part of our operations, as a good human-chicken relationship is paramount to good farm performance.
Kenchic birds enjoy a world-class level of welfare, guaranteeing the internationally recognized Five Animal Freedoms to ensure them a healthy and contented life. They are freedom from hunger, malnutrition and thirst, freedom from fear and distress, freedom from thermal and physical discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, and freedom to express their natural behavior patterns.
We believe there is a clear link between animal welfare, food safety, productivity and consumer preferences. We strive to ensure that all of our chickens are raised in the best conditions to ensure food safety.
Kenchic’s future remains to be at the forefront of food production standards, which means we will also assist and work within frameworks to develop sustainable processes with government and like-minded businesses.
The future for food safety and culture is bright as long as consumers and producers play their part in ensuring we aim for the best.