As a food producer, we have to meet social requirements. By investing in innovation and new technologies, we are continuing to develop and simultaneously contribute to solutions to the challenges which our sector is facing. We work with integrity and actively bring this theme to the attention of our employees and cooperation partners.
We develop and implement innovative solutions and new technologies in our activities and supply chain in order to improve our efficiency and sustainability efforts.
Innovation and the application of advanced technologies and knowledge play an essential role in the transition to a sustainable veal sector. Investing in research and development is logically an important part of the way we work. It offers us solutions for a future-proof sector and gives us the right to exist.
We have three of our own research centres within the VanDrie Group: Drieveld, De Haar and De Tweeling. The Research & Development (R&D) department conducts research there on a daily basis in the fields of animal health, sustainability, robotics & smart farming, efficiency and meat quality. We also collaborate often for this with external research and educational institutions. As a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, many research projects suffered delays. In spite of this, we worked on various multi-year research projects in 2021, started new research projects and made preparations for new research projects in 2022.
Using our own research companies and via collaborations with the sector and research and knowledge institutions, we are continuing to build on the innovative power of our company.
In addition, we are taking part in sectoral research projects and public-private partnerships (PPP). We are doing this ourselves or via industry associations, such as the Dutch Veal Industry Association (SBK) and the Netherlands Feed Industry Association (Nevedi).
Reduction of emissions and improvement of stall climate by tackling the source in calf stalls (year 2)
Given that there are not (yet) many approved low-emission stall systems available for the veal sector, further research is being conducted within these public-private collaborations. The veal sector wants to avoid a one-sided focus on reducing emissions, while other themes such as animal health and welfare also need to be included in stall development. The objective of this project is to design several new technical concepts for low-emission solutions for calf husbandry, based on a source-oriented approach to emissions (especially ammonia, odour and methane) so as to also improve stall climate, animal health (antibiotic reduction) and animal welfare.
In 2020 and 2021, an inventory was made within the sector of available knowledge about existing stall systems and proven technologies that reduce methane and ammonia emissions. Designs that are almost ready for practical use were included in this. With the results of this inventory, the partners within the public-private partnerships started with the design for the calf stall of the future. An important part herein is mapping out the needs of the calf and all actors, and developing a holistic approach. In mid-2022, we expect to deliver this design of the stall of the future. This will subsequently be tested in practice with veal farmers, both in terms of feasibility and willingness among the veal farmers to make the required investments.
Collaboration partners: Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen Livestock Research, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and the Dutch Veal Industry Association (SBK). The VanDrie Group is involved via the SBK.
Better stall, better manure, better yield (year 2)
An important cause of ammonia, methane and nitrous oxide emissions in livestock farming is the mixture of solid manure and urine in the stall. Within these public-private partnerships, research is being conducted into stall systems that separate these two components at an early stage in order to reduce emissions. This subsequently produces other manure products, which have valuable applications in agriculture due to their composition. That is why the research is looking at how arable farming, which is an end-user of manure, can better utilise these products. Examples include precision fertilisation and as a replacement for artificial fertiliser.
The starting point is looking for comprehensive solutions. That is why various working groups were launched in 2021 with literature and/or practical research. In 2022, conclusions from each working group will be shared during a partner day and the follow-up steps wills be discussed and started.
Collaboration partners include: Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen Livestock Research, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the Dutch Veal Industry Association (SBK), Topsector Agri & Food, ZLTO and various manufacturers of innovative technologies and stall systems. The VanDrie Group is involved via the SBK.
Klimaatmonitor Nederlandse Agroproductie (Climate Monitor Dutch Agroproduction) (year 2)
At this moment, the effect of Dutch agroproduction chains on our climate cannot easily be linked to Dutch climate policy. This is due to the difference in the orientation of the international chain approach that the business community applies and the national sectoral approach of the government. In the national approach, the (positive and negative) effects of the efforts of agrosectors, that fall outside the primary holding and the national borders, are not taken into account. The business community does take these into account, however, by basing itself on a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of its processes and products, in order to this calculate its CO2 footprint. The aim of this public-private partnership is to improve the monitoring of the Dutch agricultural production chains and to align the methods applied more effectively with one another.
In 2021, the most important impact categories were mapped out. The most important indicator is CO2, but are other factors were also identified. In 2021, a start was subsequently made on mapping out suitable models in order to measure this impact. This requires time. Various models exist, which differ in terms of the accuracy with which the impact can be measured. If we want to be able to simply measure our climate impact as a sector, a single methodology that applies sector-wide is therefore an essential condition. At the end of 2022, this public-private partnership will be completed. We will then have made clear which impact the Dutch veal sector is achieving (and reducing), both on a national scale and a global scale.
Collaboration partners: Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen Economic Research, Wageningen Livestock Research, Dutch Dairy Association (Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie; NZO), Nevedi, SBK and COViVa. The VanDrie Group is involved in this via Nevedi and the SBK.
Calf skins individually traceable
“Among our customers, the demand for transparency about the origin of their raw materials is only increasing. Companies do not want to be called to account for possible abuses at their suppliers, but even more they themselves – and their customers to an increasing extent – attach value to ethically correct and sustainable business practice, where the rights of both human and animal are respected. They ask for guarantees that the supplier is running a well-organised operation. Our customers want the certainty that the skins come from meat processing companies in which animal welfare is at a high level and also other sustainability aspects are safeguarded. Due to the traceability of the calf skins purchased by them from Oukro, we can guarantee this and they can account for their actions. As a result of this, we continue to be a preferred supplier.
All calf skins originating from meat processers Ameco, Ekro, ESA and T. Boer & zn are processed at Oukro. That concerns about 1.1 million calf skins annually. The skins we receive from Ekro are directly delivered on a meat hook, as we are housed at the same location. The slaughter number of each skin is stored in a RFID chip in the meat hook. We read that as HexCode and apply that by means of a laser print on the calf skin. As a result of this, you can always trace the hide back the meat processor and the individual animal, as each calf has its own unique ear mark as identity code.
Our customers want the certainty that the skins come from meat processing companies in which animal welfare is at a high level and also other sustainability aspects are safeguarded.
The other companies deliver their skins via a container, with the ear mark of the animal on each skin. We cut out the ear mark, scan it for storage on the RFID chip and ensure that each skin is given its own unique code.
There are still not any certificates for animal welfare in leather and skin processing, but due to our chain approach our customers can be given all guarantees with regard to animal welfare, as described in detail in the sectoral quality regulations ‘Vitaal Kalf’ (Fit Calf).
Responsible corporate governance and ethics
We want to do business in an open and responsible manner. That means that we provide insight into our results, work in an ethical way and deal with people, animals and the environment in respectful way.
Internal compliance policy
In 2021, we rolled out our tighter compliance policy further in the organisation. The way in which we want to do business ethically as the VanDrie Group and the standards which we apply in the fields of animal welfare, food safety and environment are laid down in this policy. In 2021, all employees within the purchasing and sales departments of the VanDrie Group were informed about developments in legislation and regulations, and our codes of conduct and internal rules that touch upon these themes and the accompanying risks, such as compliance with competition rules. We not only expect fair business practices from our employees, but also, for example, from our business partners, veal farmers and transporters. In order to communicate this to them clearly, we drew up ‘Our practice for doing business fairly’ in 2021. This can be read here.
In our companies, we want to have a culture in which we are open and transparent to each other. However, not everything is so black and white. Some situations are difficult to judge, whether it concerns fraudulent or unethical behaviour, or environmental, animal welfare and safety issues. Anyone who suspects an abuse is encouraged to report this to a supervisor or confidential adviser within the VanDrie Group. As from 2021, if someone thinks that this is not an option, he/she can contact SpeakUp. This is a tool with which employees (both permanent and temporary), but also chain partners, can report potential abuses anonymously. SpeakUp is hosted by an independent third party and is available in the language of the reporter of an abuse. In 2021, no reports about abuses were received. Every report that is made is treated confidentially. How the reporting procedure works can be read here.
The VanDrie Group always looks how it can further strengthen the chain. In 2021, various steps were taken to that end. In December 2020, the takeover of the Dutch activities of A.J. Van Dam Beheer b.v. was announced. In August 2021, the Dutch competition authority (Netherlands Authority for Consumers & Markets) gave definitive approval for that. A.J. van Dam Beheer b.v. is active in various disciplines within the veal sector. Its activities include the trade in calves and keeping calves on contract. The activities of A.J. van Dam Beheer b.v. outside the Netherlands will be continued unabated and independently by the Van Dam family.
In addition, the company CIMA Breeding was acquired in Italy. The company provides guidance to Italian dairy farmers on rearing calves and sells feed and other types of products for these calves. The VanDrie Group is thus increasing its scope to the European dairy farm sector.
In May 2021, Melkweg, the trading house of the VanDrie Group, took ownership of a new office building in De Klomp in the Dutch province of Gelderland. Melkweg is active in the global trade of raw dairy materials for food and (animal) feed. Over the past few years, the company has grown in terms of both turnover and staff members. The new office building offers space for the growth ambitions of the trading house.
During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020, we took various measures to ensure that our employees could work under coronavirus-proof conditions. We continued these in 2021. In spite of that, we had to take additional measures on a few occasions in order to be able to guarantee the safety of our employees.
ESA, veal processor in Apeldoorn, had to cease its slaughtering activities for a short time from 22 to 29 April 2021. As a result of the strict coronavirus health monitoring performed by the company, a significant number of employees tested positive. The production of ESA was temporarily transferred to Ekro and Ameco, two other VanDrie meat processing companies in Apeldoorn. However, the two sister companies soon had to deal with an increased number of cases of illness too. In order to be able to guarantee the safety of all employees, the slaughtering activities of these companies were cancelled as from 26 April 2021. On 29 April, the regular activities at the three companies could be resumed. That turned out to be short-lived in the case of ESA. On 5 May 2021, the company closed its doors again for one day. The company needed more time to adequately implement protective measures, such as training and directing coronavirus supervisors and making adjustments to the production. That is why the VanDrie Group decided of its own accord that closure was necessary to prevent unacceptable risks to the health of employees and third parties. From 4 to 9 August, ESA ceased slaughtering activities once again due to a number of positive tests among the persons working in the slaughterhouse. As a result of the ensuing number of quarantine orders, the company had to contend with understaffing. The staffing is already thin usually during this summer period, but it now passed a critical threshold. As a result of that, ESA could not adequately fill position that are essential for safeguarding food safety.
In collaboration with employment agencies and the municipal health services GGD Hollands Midden and GGD Noord Oost Gelderland, the VanDrie Group conducted various pilots to make it easier for employees to receive a Janssen vaccine. These employees, mainly foreign hired-in workers, are difficult to reach via regular appeals from the GGD, even though they are actually entitled to a vaccine. In the Hollands Middel region, they worked with a vaccine bus: a mobile unit came to the location of T. Boer & zn in Nieuwerkerk aan den IJssel. In Apeldoorn, the pilot was set up in such a way that employees of ESA, Ekro and Ameco could come to a GGD location for a vaccine where interpreters gave information and were available to answer questions.
In September 2021, 80 members of the action group 269 Libération Animale broke into Ekro in Apeldoorn (NL) at night and occupied the location for a short time. The police had to be called in and put an end to the occupation in the early morning. Dozens of members of the action group were also arrested. Ekro has pressed charges.
In 2019, Animal Rights lodged a complaint with civil proceedings before a Belgian investigating judge due to alleged animal welfare violations in 2018 at VanDrie Belgium in Hasselt (BE). In 2020, the investigation into the stated charges began, in spite of the closure of VanDrie Belgium. In 2021, this investigation was continued. We expect that the case will be brought before the court in 2022.
The agricultural sector is facing ever more and ever stricter requirements and demands from society. We agree with the need to make food production even more sustainable. Moreover, we attach importance to a policy that is based on such foundations. In December 2021, the VanDrie Group announced that it would be providing a three-year sponsorship contribution to Stichting Agrifacts (STAF) for the expansion of its research capacity. STAF assesses the substantiation of the agricultural and horticultural policy in the Netherlands and fact-checks publications and information about the agricultural sector.