“Maybe we should be looking at things like people in the Western world paying more than everyone else around the world,” said Rob Koremans, chief executive of Nutreco.
“That’s very common in pharmaceutical companies. Medicines are more expensive in Europe and the US than they would be in Africa and parts of Asia. It’s the only way you can really drive innovation.”
Food in the Western world is now so cheap, evidenced by consumers there now paying around 15% more on food than they would half a century ago. At the same time, food waste in production and consumption has hit extraordinary levels, especially in developing countries, like India, where a rickety supply chain stops much of its production from reaching consumers.
“Sustainability is really trying to minimize the negative impact of some of the things you produce,” he said in Bangkok recently, at the conclusion of an IFIF-organized event there.
“Some of the waste, reducing that, we take it extremely seriously. It’s very much part of what we do. And we try to explain as much as possible to our customers that by applying this approach you can actually do something that is economically very viable. Companies can make good money out of it.”
The use of data is central to flushing out inefficiencies and wastage, allowing managers to understand their processes better. Comprehensive and immutable distributed ledger systems, built on blockchain technology, is giving them more confidence in the figures they use to plan their operations. Yet to take advantage of the opportunities blockchain presents to streamline and improve their businesses, executives who cannot grasp its potential need to defer to those below them who can.
“Nutreco is engaged in something I didn’t know even existed before. We have been doing a lot of work developing blockchain,” said Dr Koremans, who assumed the top job at the Dutch animal nutrition major 10 months ago.
“If you’d have told me this three years ago, I wouldn’t have known what is was. You find solutions through artificial intelligence and Big Data that are crucial. And if some people of my generation fail to understand this, they need to start embracing it because it can provide the answers we need while also offering opportunities.”
Data technology like this is fast improving, though developers are still at an early stage in applying this to the feed and agriculture industries.
Smooth regulation is important to pave the way for impactful technologies other than data that will have a lasting impact on efficiency and sustainability. But regulators, in Europe at least, could sharpen their game by taking a broader view on biotechnology, the former pharma executive believes.
Dr Koremans said: “Regulation is something that is going to be crucial, and the more technologies that became available, the more crucial that will be.
“But if I look at the European authorities, they seem to be taking a populistic stance, rather than understanding the technologies and their potential.”
Likening the reaction of regulators to public concerns over GMOs, for example, to issues he encountered in his former industry, he said there have been cases when governing bodies have shown themselves to be too cautious.
“I’ve seen this in pharmaceuticals. You could make products available that could really help to cure disease. But regulators say that the audience isn’t quite ready for it yet, applying the precautionary principle.
“But let’s get the facts on the table and assess the impact on the people and on the planet and I believe Europe is a little too slow. In the US they are getting it slightly better,” he said.