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Our dilemmas

A thorough assessment of the choices

We are sometimes faced with dilemmas when implementing our strategy and taking the steps to achieve our ambitions. Difficult choices, whereby development in one area can mean stagnation in the other. Logically, this has an effect on the way in which we work. These dilemmas demand a thorough assessment of the choices, which we often do in consultation with relevant cooperation partners. Not only due to their knowledge and expertise, but also to ensure support for the choices that we ultimately make.

A constant pool of employees versus flexibility

In addition to employees who have an employment contract with the VanDrie Group, a considerable portion of the work is carried out by hired employees. Part of the flexible work concerns (seasonal) work by migrant workers and people for whom it is a job on the side. In the Netherlands, there is a great deal of discussion about the degree of flexible and permanent work, and the legal position of migrant workers. As a major employer in the meat sector, we follow these discussions closely. We have permanent or fixed-term contracts as much as possible for positions that are essential – for example to safeguard animal welfare and hygienic working. However, we know that we are not able to fill various jobs using local workers and we are not in a position to take over the additional services that are carried out by hiring companies. Examples of these include the recruitment of employees in the Netherlands or abroad, offering accommodation and arranging matters that are part of establishing oneself in the Netherlands. We therefore deliberately opt to recruit employees via employment agencies. How do we offer this type of employee sufficient security in spite of this and how do we remain adaptive ourselves?

We check very carefully if the hiring companies with which we work comply with the collective labour agreements, for example, and if they have certified residential facilities for their employees (such as the Stichting Normering Flexwonen). Those are absolute basic conditions for us. We also proactively consult with local governments in order to ensure additional good-quality residential facilities will be available for hired employees from abroad in the future. However, given the pressure on the housing market, this is a difficult challenge.

Current legislation and regulations versus a new reality

Results need to be achieved quickly on a large scale in terms of reducing emissions, such as greenhouse gases and nitrogen. We see it as our responsibility to play a leading role herein. Stakeholders expect this of us. We have set goals, such as a CO2 reduction of 49 percent by 2030 compared to 1990, but we see that adjustments to this policy objective will probably be necessary. The European Commission has raised ambitions, the Netherlands finds itself in a period in which a new government is being formed and The Hague District Court recently ruled in a case brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands that Shell has to reduce CO2 emissions faster. This affects our approach. 

The climate transition requires large investments – not only from us, but also from veal farmers. New stall systems at the husbandry are expected to achieve significant emission reductions. However, there are few recognised stall systems at present that a veal farmer can use. At the same time, the sector is having to contend with tight legal frameworks, limited financial support and public backing that is under pressure. In addition, the effects of the coronavirus crisis in the sector are clearly tangible, as a result of which financial resources are limited. Without investment opportunities, there can be no innovations. Without innovations, there will not be any significant improvement in sustainability. How do we ensure that we can continue to make the sector more sustainable in spite of these challenges?

We are committed to gradually removing the barriers that are hindering that necessary transition. We are doing this by means of several routes, in which collaboration and dialogue with stakeholders are essential in order to find solutions and generate support. With national and regional governments, we are emphasising the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and setting up schemes that entrepreneurs can use for large-scale, effective investments. In cooperation with the Dutch province of Gelderland, the Dutch Veal Industry Association (SBK) and the Dutch Federation of Agricultural and Horticultural Organizations (LTO), we established an innovation scheme in the autumn of 2020, for example, which veal farmers from Gelderland can make use of. Part of this scheme is a provincial subsidy aimed at developing innovative stall systems that make a contribution to ammonia reduction.

Calves from the Netherlands versus imported calves

We include calves in our integration that are not suitable for placement at the dairy farmer. Within our chain, we apply strict requirements for responsible and animal-friendly calf transport. A wide range of conditions are essential in that regard. In addition to complying with the maximum transport duration, checks are carried out to see if calves are healthy and fed before transport commences, if the loading and unloading goes smoothly and if vehicles are climate-controlled so that weather conditions have no effect. Moreover, vehicles must have sufficient space, soft bedding and drinking facilities. The way in which a driver drives is also important. Drivers must therefore possess a certificate of professional competence for livestock transport. 

The share of Dutch calves in our integration is around 60 percent. In addition, we also buy calves from other Member States and are dependent on those imports. The majority of the foreign calves in our integration come from the region, i.e. Germany, Belgium or Luxembourg. A smaller share come from the Baltic States and Ireland. In all these countries, we do not have any production facilities, such as animal feed companies, husbandries or meat processing locations. We need imports to meet the current market demand.

The importation of calves is viewed critically by political and civil society organisations, especially when it concerns the longer distances over which a small proportion of the calves are transported (such as from the Baltic States or Ireland). How do we ensure that we organise our chain in a sustainable, animal-friendly and affordable way, even when considering how the calves are transported? 

Although foreign calves have a good health status and score lower in terms of use of antibiotics than calves of Dutch origin, we realise that the import of calves from Eastern Europe and Ireland is not in line with the idea of circularity. In the coming three years, we will cut back on the contracts that we have with suppliers for calves from far-off destinations, in order to buy calves more regionally. With this decision, we are speeding up the execution of the sectoral objective to reduce 20 percent of the long-term transports by 2030. In addition, we remain committed to optimising the conditions for responsible calf transport. For example, we apply cold and heat protocols for transport. We train drivers and veal farmers to recognise animal behaviour so the loading and unloading can take place calmly and without stress. We require our transporters to continue investing in climate-controlled transport vehicles. Within the sector, we also take a variety of strict measures to guarantee animal health and biosafety. The Foundation for Quality Guarantee of the Veal Sector (SKV), for example, has for many years been operating a traffic light model to continuously assess and monitor the risk of animal disease introduction per country. Currently there are rearing bans in place for Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and the United Kingdom. Imports of Irish calves are only allowed subject to supplementary conditions.