Dr. İrfan Çoban, Biokey Gıda Tarım ve Hayvancılık Ltd. Şti.: “The increasing awareness of users about animal nutrition is canalizing the livestock sector to more natural and sustainable resources.”
Interview by: Cemalettin KANAŞ
We had the chance to do a very enjoyable and satisfying interview with Dr. İrfan Çoban, General Manager of Biokey which was jointly established with Biomin as the Turkey office of the Austrian biotechnology company, in his office in Çekmeköy, İstanbul. Dr. Çoban who attracts attention with his fund of knowledge on animal nutrition and welfare as an animal breeding expert and his insight about the sector as a businessman shared his vision and suggestions about the sector with Feed Planet readers. Dr. Çoban agrees with the widely accepted opinion that the final consumer is getting more conscious in recent years and states that this is also a result of their strategies and that they attach great importance to the studies on reducing the use of antibiotics. However, on the other hand, he emphasizes the need to alter the section of the Biosafety regulation that prohibits the import of the products starting with bio- or eco- in the feed additive field which has been imposed as an attempt to avoid misleading the final consumer: “In fact, it is logically erroneous because feed additive companies sell their products to feed mills, not to the final user. Therefore, misleading the final user is beside the point in this case. I can delete the name of a single product, but how can I delete the company's name? There is only one solution to this: changing the regulation.”
Dr. İrfan Çoban's answers to our questions are as follows:
You are producing solutions for health and profitability, the two issues farmers focus on in the field of animal nutrition. First of all, can you introduce your company to us? In connection with this, would you please clarify the relationship between Biomin and Biokey for our readers?
Biokey was founded in 2010 with the intersection of our roads and targets with Austrian Biomin. Biokey was established after Biomin, known for the pioneering products it has developed for animal nutrition as well as industry-leading research, wanted to make an investment in Turkey and today it has been providing service within the sector in the fields of poultry, ruminants and, aquaculture for nine years. As a biotechnology company, Biomin's most significant added value is its state-of-the-art natural products and its technical staff capable of offering customized solutions. These products are produced with over 30 years of experience in the field of mycotoxin research, with the R&D centers consisting of more than 100 scientists and with world-class academic and research organizations. And we, as Biokey, put these solutions at the disposal of the Turkish livestock sector through our expert and experienced team.
BIOSAFETY BOARD’S REGULATION SHOULD BE CHANGED
Cultural differences between countries can be influential on many issues, especially consumption habits. How do these differences reflect on you?
Because our country of activity is Turkey, cultural differences with other countries frankly do not affect us much. However, since Biomin is active all over the world, it can combine and use the know-how and experience from different geographies.
On the other hand, there are, of course, characteristics that result from geographical differences rather than cultural differences. For example, mycotoxin contamination may be different depending on geographical regions. In warmer countries that are closer to the Equator, mycotoxin diversity is much different. Turkey is a country that is somewhat caught in the middle in this respect. We are both a hot and a cold country. Therefore, our mycotoxin diversity is very high. Therefore, in Turkey, we prefer to sell the products that offer the widest protection.
Do the differences between the EU and Turkey pose some problems for you?
For example, the Biosafety Board regulations and feed regulations were found to contradict at one point. To tell the truth, even though we are implementing the same regulation as the European Union, it is understood that the EU did not pay attention to this issue or saw a problem here. In Turkey, import of the products of which names are starting with bio- or eko- in the field of feed additives has been prohibited. Due to the idea that these names mislead the final user, causing them to assume that these products are organic. In fact, this is a logically erroneous approach because feed additive companies sell their products to feed mills, not to the final user. Therefore, misleading the final user is out of question. In order to overcome this problem, we were obliged to change the names of internationally patented products. For example, we changed the name of our product Biotronic into Toptronic. At this point, Biomin showed a great level of flexibility. It accepted to change the name of a patented product solely for Turkey. As you would appreciate, the name of some companies like us starts with Bio-. Biokey or Biomin. I can delete the name of one single product, but it is not possible to delete or change the name of the company.
WE APPRECIATE CONSUMERS' CONSCIOUSNESS ABOUT USE OF ANTIBIOTICS
This practice of the ministry may be due to the idea that the end-user is not as knowledgeable in technical topics as the stakeholders in the sector. On the other hand, many manufacturers often say that the end-user is much more conscious than they were 20-30 years ago. In this context, the end user's demand for non-antibiotic products is also increasing. How does this change guide you?
In fact, on the contrary, it is we who directly guide this area. What we do as Biomin is to adapt the innovations or developments in the field of biotechnology to the feed additive field or to use them in animal nutrition and animal health. Our studies in the field of biotechnology include probiotics, phytogenics, yeasts, organic acid mixtures and supporting them with different strategies. All these studies aim to reduce the use of antibiotics. Here I would like to underline the word ‘reduce' because it is not possible to completely eliminate the use of antibiotics. The animal needs treatment when it gets sick, just like human beings. And if antibiotics are required for the treatment, what is necessary should be done.
Previously, antibiotic growth factors were used to increase the growth rate of animals. The European Union saw for the first time that these pathogens rapidly gained resistance to antibiotic growth factors and decided to prohibit them. In 2006, Turkey has applied the same strategy. On the other hand, there is a point where manufacturers or integrations are also right: performance. These antibiotics continued to be used as a growth factor for a reason: to achieve a 3-percent performance in the development of animals. When you think of the whole sector, of course, this 3 percent reaches a large amount.
WE ARE ONE OF THE FIRST COMPANIES TO STUDY ON PROBIOTICS
So we still need a strategy to regulate the intestinal health of animals. Reducing the number of pathogenic bacteria in the intestines of animals and increasing the number of bacteria in its place, thus ensuring healthier digestion. The secretion of the digestive enzymes by these bacteria. We need a mechanism such that the intestinal epithelium, villi, and crypt depths are prolonged and hence bolstered digestion. Biomin provides this mechanism with various biotechnology products it has developed. Probiotics, for example. Biomin is one of the first companies to study on probiotics. And we are one of the first companies to work in this field in Turkey. Biomin has been organizing a yearly activity called "Antibiotic Reduction Days" for the last 3 years to discuss strategies for reducing the use of antibiotics. It also takes on a responsibility to promote these strategies by inviting feed experts from around the world.
How is Biokey's contribution to Biomin? Do you have a facility or laboratory in which conduct your R&D activities in Turkey?
Our Biokey, we do not have an independent R&D study or facility in Turkey. As Biokey, we provide the adaptation and integration of Biomin's resources and know-how to the Turkish livestock sector. Biomin has a lot of resources on this. Today when you call Biomin or Biokey, one of the first services that come to mind is mycotoxin analyses. Mycotoxin analyses can be performed by many companies through their own means, and they can do this through Elisa tests. However, in terms of reliability, tests with HBLS are much more accurate and can also provide a legal basis. An analysis with HBLS can be used as direct evidence when a problem arises. The ERBER Group, to which Biomin is affiliated, embodies also Romer Labs, one of the largest suppliers of mycotoxin analyses and mycotoxin analysis kits and laboratory equipment in the world. Therefore, we provide analysis services in our sister company Romer Labs. We conduct nearly 300 HBLS analyses per year. And at the end of the year, we usually produce a mycotoxin statistics report. Through this report, every year we publish the increase or decrease trends in terms of various mycotoxins in Turkey, positive samples; the highest, lowest and average values among them both in terms of feedstuff and raw materials. We also offer these reports to all customers. In fact, non-customers also have access to this data through the applications of Biomin.
The products you sell as a company and the sales figures reflect the overall position of a country in a sense. Although these data belong to your company, do you share this data or analyses that are revealed thanks to these data within the scope of the studies of TÜ-YE-KAD, which you take part in its administration, or any other research?
We are conducting some studies at universities in Turkey. We have worked particularly with Ankara University both in terms of conducting some academic experiments and providing information exchange and flow. We also have some works designed for the future. Biomin collaborates with many international universities, research centers, and institutes. The techno-city in Tulln, Austria is a big project that is inclusive of three universities. Biomin's R&D center located within this techno-city is carrying on joint work with all universities in the world. And our product development projects are accompanied by many universities or research centers around the world. In other words, projects are actually being developed globally and the products or strategies emerge with the support of different R&D institutions.
Technical services are one of the services we have brought to Turkey. Biomin has different experts in different departments in this subject. Our experts on both animal nutrition and health in the fields of poultry, ruminants, and aquaculture organize one-to-one visits to our customers all around Turkey, listen to their problems and offer solutions. This is also one of the technical services we provide on a regular basis.
Prof. Dr. Hiteman, a world-renowned expert on the collapse of the feet in poultry which we call "lameness" will pay a visit to Turkey as our guest in early 2020 and together we will conduct various investigations in some integrations. He will carry out some studies in order to observe and check the degree of lameness problems in poultry in Turkey personally. We are already planning to conduct this scanning with some of the integrated plants which volunteer on this subject. These are the technical services we plan to provide.
AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION AREAS SHOULD BE INCREASED
One of the topics of our November-December issue, which will include this interview as well, is the relationship between animal breeding and the environment. What would you say about that? On your website, you state that you are determined to do your part on this subject. What are the contributions of feed additives companies in this regard?
When it comes to effects on the environment, the first thing that comes to the mind is carbon emissions. At this point, feed additives companies also have responsibility. There is a lot of research on reducing methane gas emissions by using feed additives, for example by regulating intestinal health. Biomin is one of the leading companies also in reducing carbon emissions or reducing methane gas production in animals.
I have two ideas at this juncture. The first one is my official opinion. The significance of carbon emissions caused by animals has not yet been comprehended in Turkey. However, here is what I think unofficially and personally: If one of the major factors of global warming is methane gas, and it needs to be reduced, it is also necessary to see the ranking of animal husbandry in this regard. Livestock is responsible for only about 5 percent of methane production. One should consider that 95 percent of this arises from the activities in developed countries, the melting of glaciers in Siberia, etc. But if this is still a resource, of course, everything necessary should be done.
The second point is about aquaculture. There was a side that used to affect people's comfort before. Fish production facilities located near the coastline, close to the holiday resorts, used to disturb the domestic and foreign tourists. Legal regulations were made. Consequently, fish farms were taken away -I guess- for about 3 km. However, there is a problem. Our fish production is squashed into a narrow area in the Aegean Sea between Izmir and Milas. In fact, 90 percent of the total production is squashed into the Gulf of Güllük. Perhaps we need to increase and diversify production areas.
TRADITIONAL METHODS IN FISH NUTRITION ARE BEING ABANDONED
One should not miss this point in the interaction with the environment. One of the biggest problems in aquaculture is feeding. Fish, especially carnivorous fish, are feed mainly with fishmeal. Traditionally our strategy in traditional aquaculture was turning cheap fish into expensive fish. That is to feed expensive fish with cheap fish and make a profit out of here. For example, catching anchovy and turning it into fishmeal and feeding bass or bream, that is, a more expensive and more luxurious fish, with this fishmeal. However, this strategy has been abandoned a long time ago, especially in Europe. Of course, economic factors are of great importance here, but at the same time, it does not make much sense in terms of sustainability. Therefore, in aquaculture, it is important to be able to do this with more sustainable feed sources or raw materials without consuming natural resources - that is, without consuming wild/natural fish. Because at the end of the day, the basic principle of animal nutrition is making the feed raw materials that are and are not used in human nutrition usable in human nutrition again through animals. Therefore, I think it is one of the important points to be able to conduct aquaculture production in the future with the traditional feed raw materials without touching the natural resources. At this point, of course, this issue pops up immediately: How do you feed a carnivorous animal solely with grass? Or how do you feed them with plant sources? As Biomin, we take part in the protection of the environment or natural resources by producing appetizing feed additives that enable these animals to eat a feed composed of raw materials of plant origin.