Science-Driven Innovation for Food Safety

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Betagro
Jan 12, 2010

Science-Driven Innovation for Food Safety

One Player Leads the Way in Thailand

The Betagro Group's headquarters set in lush surroundings.

More than forty years ago, what is today the Betagro Group, one of the leading players in Thailand’s integrated agricultural business, began life a short distance from Bangkok as an animal feed producer and distributor. Today some 31 companies operate under the group’s umbrella in areas that include regional and feed business, poultry business, swine business, food business, and animal health business.

More recently, Betagro has also turned its attention to expanding its joint-venture Japanese restaurant chain in Thailand and establishing a foothold in the retail market with own-brand products. That the Betagro story is one of continuous success over a forty-year-plus period is evidenced today by the scale of the group’s operations and its clear ability not only to survive the slings and arrows of economic misfortune, but to...

One Player Leads the Way in Thailand

The Betagro Group's headquarters set in lush surroundings.

More than forty years ago, what is today the Betagro Group, one of the leading players in Thailand’s integrated agricultural business, began life a short distance from Bangkok as an animal feed producer and distributor. Today some 31 companies operate under the group’s umbrella in areas that include regional and feed business, poultry business, swine business, food business, and animal health business.

More recently, Betagro has also turned its attention to expanding its joint-venture Japanese restaurant chain in Thailand and establishing a foothold in the retail market with own-brand products. That the Betagro story is one of continuous success over a forty-year-plus period is evidenced today by the scale of the group’s operations and its clear ability not only to survive the slings and arrows of economic misfortune, but to thrive. This is exemplified by new factory and processing plant openings and expansion of overseas markets, whilst continuing to serve its home base customers.

However, there is more to this success story than wise stewardship and entrepreneurial acumen. The application of science driven technology, especially in the all important area of food safety and product traceability, has long been at the heart of the group’s growth strategy, leading to pioneering innovations in its various operations that continue to show the way for others in the industry.

For example, Betagro’s SPF (Specific Pathogen Free) pig production joint venture with the Japanese company Sumitomo, established in 2004, was in fact the culmination of a previous Betagro SPF program of breeding and finishing technology that aimed to meet the strict Japanese import regulations for pork meat. Achieving fully compliant SPF pig production is no easy task, and at Betagro’s special facility in Lop Buri province, meticulous procedures are followed that begin with the culling of parent sows after one litter and ensuring piglets are raised free from antibiotics.

Betagro's pioneering ventilation system.

Some 600 farms within a 200 Km radius supply the Lop Buri plant with pigs raised in strict accordance with the SPF criteria and provided with full ‘traceable’ documentation. A comprehensive and thorough disease inspection process prior to slaughter includes precluding atrophic rhinitis, Aujeszky’s disease, swine dysentery, toxoplasmosis, and brucellosis. Handling up to 1,600 pigs per day, the Betagro facility is able to provide meat for the Japanese market, which after cooking, is sold as Chashu, Sliced Chashu, Buta Kakuni, Kushi Katsu and Tonkatsu. Other pork meat, marketed under the “S-Pure” brand is reserved for the top-end local Thai market.

Betagro currently has 45,000 breeders in its wholly operated farms and contracted farms, and 350,000 breeders being raised by farmers hired by contract. The “S-Pure” concept also applies to Betagro’s massive poultry operations in which S-Pure Chicken products are produced under international standards of assured chicken production (ACP) and regulations of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) laid down by the United Kingdom. Objectives of these schemes are to monitor and drive continuing improvement in animal welfare standards and food safety. With the additional criteria that all chicken meat must be produced free from antibiotics and growth promoters, poultry is raised in accordance with carefully defined rules on stocking density and that a system of total traceability must be in place.

All Betagro S-Pure Chicken products are also Halal certified that the birds are slaughtered in the most humane way, with no unnecessary pain and suffering.

An integral part of Betagro’s longstanding commitment to food safety has been its pioneering application of a practical and effective traceability system.

Responsible food manufacturers and producers around the world have long made food safety and hygiene a top priority as a matter of principle and to increase customer confidence in their products. Regulatory authorities too have established a raft of controls and standards that apply both locally and internationally in an effort to achieve the same goal.

The Betagro 'Spy on me' system allows point-of-purchase verification.

Since the advent of computer-based technology and the huge technological developments it has driven, the concept of “traceability”—first introduced by the European Union in 2002 but implemented as a practical tool in 2005—is playing an increasingly important role in many aspects of the food production chain. The EU defines “traceability” as “the ability to trace and follow a food, feed, food-producing animal or substance intended to be, or expected to be incorporated into a food or feed, through all stages of production, processing, and distribution.”

Although costly and time consuming to fully implement, especially across a wide range of food products and operations, traceability’s many benefits have led to its recognition as an indispensable aid to improving food safety throughout the industry.

When in 2002 Betagro developed and installed its own e-traceability system, its significance was quickly realized by the industry, both locally and internationally, by regulatory bodies and eventually by the agreeably surprised end consumer. Today, its significance is even greater as food safety regulations become more internationalized under concepts such as “farm to table”.

In the overall context of food safety, strategies employed by Betagro include complying with a comprehensive range of international standards and systems all of which support the effectiveness of what is now a wide-ranging and highly efficient e-traceability system. Ultimately, consumer confidence in relation to food safety has to be the deciding factor, and with this in mind, Betagro took its e-traceability system a step further in 2008 when, working closely with the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA), it literally placed a version of the system in the hands and at the finger tips of local consumers in a one-year pilot project that has now been extended. Specially designed “Spy-on-Me” kiosks in major retail outlets in the nation’s capital allow customers to monitor Betagro’s entire production process and discover the source of origin or information about the breeders, farms, animal feed, meat processing and cutting, transportation, and storage at retail points. Meat processors who participate in this traceability program must meet industry standards on meat processing, transportation, and distribution. Once they are certified, the BMA will allow them to display a symbol attesting to the high quality of the meat on their product packaging.

One of Betagro's newly completed feed mills.

This “see for yourself” approach not only increases buyer’s confidence at the crucial point of sale, but clearly demonstrates that Betagro’s much vaunted commitment to food safety is more than just words.

That same commitment is seen in other areas throughout Betagro’s operations where, often fuelled by scientific and technological research, new technolgies, systems, and methods are adopted whenever they are likely to result in clear advantages and benefits.

The successful collaboration between Betagro’s B. International and Technology and the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) in developing the “Ventech” ventilation controller is one such example. Introduction of the equipment led to a national award for outstanding research project in 2007. The system helps animal farming operators to reduce costs and gain better produce. Betagro has also applied it to fresh markets to cool the air and reduce energy costs as an alternative to air-conditioning.

As the Betagro Group looks to a future in which an ever increasing world population is predicted to reach more than nine billion by 2050, it does so with a scientific research based strategy of growth and development. Scientifically speaking we are indeed what we eat. The safer and more nutritious producers such as Betagro can make our food, the healthier and better fed we will all be.

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