Whether it is feed or food, every product that leaves our chain must be of the same high quality level. All over the world, supplying safe products is the basic standard that customers and consumers expect from us as a food producer. Food safety therefore has our utmost attention every moment of production.
Transparency and traceability
We are committed to guaranteeing chain transparency and traceable product information.
With Safety Guard, VanDrie Group's quality system, we can provide the guarantees that are required of us worldwide. In every link of the chain. Every aspect of our work is governed by the Safety Guard standards, whether that is on veal farms, during feed production or at meat processing companies. This quality system is based on ISO 22000. The VanDrie Group's various subsidiaries also hold certificates for GMP+, IFS, BRC and ISO14001, among others. Vitaal Kalf (Fit Calf) is the quality system of the Dutch veal sector. This quality system includes rules for hygiene, calf health, animal welfare, feed quality, medicine use and registration. Our veal farmers are inspected for compliance with these requirements by the independent Veal Calves Quality Guarantee Foundation (SKV). The SKV also carries out sampling and visual inspections of veal farmers and the meat-processing companies to guarantee that veal is produced without the use of undesirable growth-promoting substances. With Safety Guard and Vitaal Kalf together, we safeguard the quality in the entire calf production chain.
A unique aspect of Safety Guard is its traceability system. With this system, we keep precise records of which raw materials are processed into animal feed, where they come from and which farms receive the batches of animal feed. The calves have unique ear tag numbers that are always linked to the animal. This enables us to know at which farm the animal was born or kept. In the meat processing companies, the unique code remains linked to the products. We are therefore able to trace an individual piece of meat, for example, back to an individual ingredient in the animal feed. You can read more here.
Part of the VanDrie Group is Labora, an independent and service-oriented laboratory, which is ISO 17025 accredited and specialises in chemical and microbiological research. Labora conducts research for producers, suppliers and traders of raw materials and foods, and for the VanDrie Group production companies. This is how we make our guarantees truly demonstrable.
Our chain has to deal with changing and more stringent requirements and legislation. That requires the organisation to be adaptive. In 2021, quality organisation within the VanDrie Group was revised in order to achieve improved interconnection between all links in the chain. All links of the chain are represented in a new body – the chain management team: feed, farm and food. In this team, there is scope to exchange best practices, to share ideas with each other about issues and to explore opportunities for further improvements of processes and products. In 2022, the approach regarding internal audits was updated in order to make it more demonstrable that quality is embedded in all operational processes.
Within the chain management team, various projects were carried out that should further improve food safety. One of the projects is based on Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS). In 2020, Labora – the laboratory of the VanDrie Group – was thoroughly renovated and expanded with more space to apply innovative research techniques including WGS. This is a technique with which the genomes (the collection of all genes) of microorganisms can be mapped out. This makes it possible, for example, to demonstrate the relationship between disease-causing agents in order to detect possible sources of infection and exposure pathways. The new technique can provide a lot of data. It is therefore important to have a solid plan on how and in which way we want to apply WGS in the chain. In 2021 a project group was launched that will give a recommendation about the way in which WGS can be effectively applied within the VanDrie Group. It is using scientific literature, as well as its own knowledge and experience for this, but also recommendations from external experts, including Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam.
Richard Vonk has been working for ESA, one of four meat processing companies of the VanDrie Group in the Netherlands, for eight years, currently as Director of Operations. He is therefore responsible for the entire range of primary processes in the meat processing. One of his challenges is coat hygiene, a theme that receives a lot of attention within the context of food safety. Skin dirt is a constant factor, says Vonk, and has direct consequences for the slaughtering process. “Because if an animal is heavily soiled on the outside, the slaughtering process must be adjusted.”
The coat composition of an animal is seasonal. “In the winter, the coat is thicker, as a result of which the build-up of dirt is greater. The legislation and regulations stipulate that the animals must be delivered clean, because that has a direct link with the slaughtering process and food safety. Those factors make the relationship with the end product quite complex. Because every carcass at the end of the slaughtering process must be supplied with a health stamp and must be visibly 100 percent contamination-free.
A cow is not house-trained and mainly ruminates. “The animal excretes and urinates everywhere, therefore it is important that the discharge of urine and manure is well organised in the stall, because otherwise the ground becomes dirty so quickly that the coat subsequently absorbs that. Therefore, the quality of the stall has an impact.” However, factors such as humidity, age, or if the animals are too warm or sick, affect skin dirt, states Vonk. “That changes the faeces and in turn affects coat hygiene. We are therefore conducting fieldwork in the chain, for example by collaborating on the feed composition, so that the faeces are firmer, or by entering into discussion with veal farmers about a good stall climate. Everyone in the chain contributes to clean animals.”
“As a result of our policy, we are seeing more and more clean animals,” says Vonk. “For example, due to the clearer and also slightly stricter regulations of the Veal Calves Quality Guarantee Foundation (SKV), but also due to Kalverinfonet (KIN), a platform of the VanDrie Group that provides veal farmers with insight into the slaughter results of the calves supplied by them, because if the slaughterhouse has recorded and registered a deviation, then that is relayed back via KIN to the veal farmer. An improvement cycle starts then with a visit to the veal farmer, during which he or she receives advice on how he or she can do better the next time around.”
In order to foster awareness, ESA invited various groups of veal farmers in 2021 in order to see the process up-close and to explain how coat hygiene affects the process and food safety. There is also a project running within the VanDrie Group the aim of which is to improve the uniformity in assessment by regional managers, so that veal farmers always receive identical feedback. “By zooming in on seasonal factors, the policy of the veal farmers, the feed and uniform processes, we are well on the way in our improvement curve.”
An indicator to determine whether veal products and animal feed have been produced responsibly and safely is the number of recalls (the recall of products by a supplier). Two recalls took place in our chain in 2021, only with our animal feed products. In this instance, a product did not meet the requirements set for the product from a food safety or quality perspective. As a result of our properly functioning tracking and tracing system and short supply lines with customer, it was possible to respond quickly and the products were recalled.
Inspection results NVWA
Our Dutch Meat Processing companies, Ameco, ESA, Ekro and T. Boer & zn are under permanent supervision of the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). This means constant inspections on important issues such as animal welfare or hygienic work are in place. In addition to this permanent supervision, The NVWA carries out inspections (a total of 6,260 for the aforementioned companies) and publishes its data publicly on its own website. We see over 2021 that the four companies comply by as much as 99.4%. To a large degree the demands made upon us are met. Nevertheless, in 2021, four deficiencies that were are finable under the Animals Act were found. This mainly looks at hygiene issues such as failure to ensure the supply of clean animals from primary farms. Additional measures such as shearing the contaminated animals on the farm. One company faced condensation problems for a considerable time. In the meantime, a major renovation has taken place to remedy the situation. We remain committed to continuous quality improvement, both in the companies and in our chain. The assurance of safe and good production is one of our top priorities.