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'Europe's most efficient processing facilities'

18 July 2011

The CEO of the Foodchain and Biomass Renewable Association (Fabra), Stephen Woodgate, talks to David Strydom about the association, and how it plans to address the challenges facing the sector

Could you define Fabra in your own words?
Fabra is the trade body concerned with the processing of animal by-products and food residues. Our members account for more than 60% of animal by-product processed in the UK and are using it to generate green energy, feed ingredients and raw materials for the oleochemical and construction industries.

When, where and by whom was it founded?
Fabra is a relatively young organisation founded in 2009 by five of the UK's most progressive operators. Their businesses had changed fundamentally in the previous five years; by 2009 they were taking in new raw materials, supplying new markets, working in partnerships with food processorsand retailers, and facing new challenges. They created Fabra to work alongside the bodies that represent other aspects of the food chain.

What is your mission?
Our goal is to add value to the food production chain. We can do that by promoting careful sorting, efficient collection, safe processing and best-value use of its by-products.

What are the sector's biggest challenges in terms of waste management, in your opinion?
The biggest challenge is also the greatest opportunity -to reduce the amount of 'waste' to be managed by focusing on extracting the maximum nutritional value from everything we produce.

Could you describe the term 'rendering'?
Rendering is the process through which valuable raw materials are recovered from animal by-products and food residues. By applyingcontrolled heat the rendering process drives off water to extract fat, in the form of tallow, and protein meal. The rendering process itself dates back hundreds of years but in the past decade the most up-to-date plants operated by Fabra members have been subject to massive investment, driving forward environmental performance and improving product quality.

How does 'rendering' differ from anaerobic digestion?
Both processes can convert organic material such as foodresidues into energy; the most effective and appropriate choice will depend onthe nature of the raw material to be processed. Anaerobic digestion uses enzymes to produce biogas in a process often compared to a "stomach" processing food. To be effective, anaerobic digesters require a balanced, consistent diet and a steady supply of "feed" raw material. Rendering, on the other hand, uses the application of heat to drive off water and return two dehydrated products - fat, in the form of tallow, and protein meal. As well as having higher-value uses, for example in feed, both rendered products can provide green energy.

How important are skills and training to Fabra, and how do you apply them?
Skills and training are vitally important and are a core element of our work. Our primary goal is to return value to the meat production chain, and so we're constantly seeking ways to improve the quality and value of our end products. Fabra's membership is committed to maintaining the highest possible processing stands and continuous improvement within their plants. Their success in achieving this is based on research, investment, training and education.

Could you elaborate on the meaning of 'the fifth quarter'?
The fifth quarter is a traditional butchery term whichrefers to the hide, fat and bones of an animal produced for meat consumption.Today the expression also encompasses the parts of an animal we choose not toeat but which is fit for consumption, such as some offal.

How important is the Food Standards Agency in wastemanagement?
The FSA is a crucial link in the food production chainand is a key influencer of food policy; to that extent its work and views are very important. Following recent changes to its remit, the FSA is now clearly focused on public health and seems determined to invest its limited resources addressing food safety issues which have the greatest impact on public health.

How developed is the UK meat sector in terms of animal by-product and food residue management, compared to the rest of Europe?
Government environmental policy has undoubtedly pushed animal by-product and food residue management up the commercial agenda. As aresult of this and the ongoing efforts of our by-product processing industry tofind new markets for its processed products and new sources of raw material,the UK boasts some of the most efficient processing facilities in Europe. The vital role processors play in protecting public health and reducing theenvironmental impact of food production is, however, probably less well recognised among UK food chain partners and consumers than elsewhere in Europe.

What is your background?
I have a scientific background, originally focussed onruminant nutrition and developing new animal feed supplements. More recently Ihave focussed on the technical aspects of animal by-product processing,including the last six years as the Technical Director of EFPRA, the bodyrepresenting the by-product industry throughout Europe. As well as my work aschief executive of Fabra, I am a member of the EFPRA Executive Board andCouncil and am currently second vice-president of the World RenderingOrganisation.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
We can support society's goal of reducing theenvironmental impact of food production by minimising the volume of waste weproduce, and maximising the use and value we derive from all that we rear andgrow for food, including animal by-products and food residues.  Consumer champions and anti-waste campaignersare now openly calling for better utilisation of food, encouraging us toconsume the offal, meat cuts and other foods which have been shunned in recent years. We will be doing all we can to support their efforts.



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