The activities of our companies have an impact on the environment and climate. With innovation and collaboration through the entire chain, we are focusing on closing circles and making production processes more sustainable. In this way, we are reducing our ecological footprint and we are contributing to national climate goals.
We are working on increasing the share of sustainably extracted raw materials and restricting the waste flows in our supply chain to a minimum. In doing so, we are seeking to close cycles and increase biodiversity.
As part of the transition to a more climate-friendly and circular way of working, the VanDrie Group has been participating in Bio Energy Coevorden (BEC) since 2021. BEC has one of the Netherlands’ largest biogas plants in Coevorden (NL). Biogas is produced at this plant by means of co-fermentation and all-purpose fermentation on the basis of manure and other organic residual waste flows. In this way, organic waste products that are released in the meat processing of the VanDrie Group serve once again as raw material for the production of biogas. The biogas is supplied to the local gas network of Rendo and the national gas network of Gasunie. In 2021, 45 million m3 of biogas were produced at BEC. It is the ambition of BEC, together with the VanDrie Group, to continue to grow to 100 million m3 of biogas and to build a Bio LNG plant, as Bio LNG is seen as a very promising transport fuel for the future. In this way, BEC and the VanDrie Group want to make a valuable contribution to achieving the national climate goals.
We are also working hard within our Dutch meat processing companies to achieve more efficient business operations and to reduce our climate impact. Scaling down the consumption of gas and utilising residual heat more effectively are also key areas. For example, the ESA location has been working on the restructuring of its cooling infrastructure since 2012. Over the course of the years, they have invested in heat pumps and when replacing cooling systems, they opted in each case for technology with which heat recovery is possible. These heat pumps run entirely on electricity. In 2021, various systems within the company were linked to heat pumps, such as the central heating of all offices, the sterilisation system in the slaughterhouse and the water that is used to clean the building. This has led to the gas use within ESA being reduced considerably. In 2021, concrete form was given to plans to apply the same technology for the climate control of the slaughterhouse and the purification of the wastewater. The expectation is that ESA will work almost completely gas-free within two years, in line with the group-wide ambition that all our Dutch meat processing companies will be practically gas-free and run completely on heat recovery by 2025. Some gas capacity will probably remain necessary in order to cope with emergencies or critical processes, such as the management of sterilisation water.
Sustainable raw materials
The companies of the VanDrie Group are working in various ways on connecting chains. For example, the raw materials that we buy for our animal feed are to a considerable extent residual products and co-products from various dairy and food producers. About 80 percent of our calf milk consists of residual waste flows, such as whey, low fat milk powder and permeate (residual waste flows from the dairy and cheese industries). In addition, by-products make up a significant share of the muesli that calves eat. Approximately 70 percent of these products come from residual waste flows from arable farming (grain processing and oilseeds) and the food industry. When selecting the raw materials, we try to buy these locally as possible. With a share of 80 percent, we obtain the majority of our raw materials from Europe. More than a third of the raw materials come from within a 250-kilometre radius of our feed production sites.
Oil and fats are important energy sources in our feeds. They provide essential fatty acids (linoleic acid and linolenic acid) that cannot be created by an animal itself. These essential fatty acids subsequently help with the absorption of vitamins and are therefore indispensable as means of guaranteeing the calves’ good health. Important raw materials that we use for this include palm oil and palm oil derivatives. For the Dutch production and sales, as well as the German sales and a few customer-driven requirements, we buy traceability certificates in accordance with the guidelines of the Nevedi Convenant Duurzame Palmolie (Nevedi Covenant on Sustainable Palm Oil) in the Netherlands. We buy these traceability certificates from a producer that has produced this palm oil and these palm oil derivatives in accordance with the principles and criteria of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). In 2022, we want to become a member of RSPO.
In Europe, we see that criticism of the import of raw materials from outside Europe is growing. The European Commission has announced stricter environmental rules for the importation of soya and palm oil, amongst other products. Customers are asking us more and more often for products manufactured using European raw materials. We want to source our raw materials from our immediate surroundings as much as possible. We already buy the majority of them from Europe. In the past years, we have looked to see whether good alternative fat sources are available in Europe. In 2021, the R&D department tested promising alternatives on a practical level at our research farms. Successful results were achieved with that, including with rapeseed oil.
Calcium of Dutch origin
Calcium is a mineral that people need for building and maintaining healthy bones. The human body does not create calcium itself. It therefore has to be obtained from food. This mineral is also sorely needed by calves. Calcium constitutes a valuable nutrient and component of the calf milk powder and muesli that the VanDrie Group produces for calves. “It has a positive effect on the intestines, the rumen and on animal health,” says researcher Eelke van der Wal. The VanDrie Group has recently started adding calcium extracted from Dutch drinking water production in order to replace dairy components with plant-based or other raw materials. A totally new form of raw material extraction for the company. In conversation with Eelke and the new cooperation partner CA Minerals.
Eelke: “We are now using a product that is normally seen as a residual waste flow as a valuable raw material for our calf milk and our muesli. We got the idea from an article in the trade journal De Molenaar – a magazine for the animal feed sector. An article described that picking stones for chickens can contain, among other things, chalk from the drinking water purification. Together with an R&D colleague and someone from raw materials purchasing, we subsequently explored the possibilities. This is how we came into contact with Roel Bontrup and Eric de Bruin from CA Minerals.”
“We produce chalk that meets the strictest rules of the Drinking Water Act and of a very high purity. The chalk is bright white and has a calcium content of 99 percent”, says Erik de Bruin. The VanDrie Group previously added calcium in a premix, a mixture with various minerals from the mineral extraction. Adding now takes place separately and the compound feed silos have been modified for that. “It is a major advantage that we can supply our own calcium of this quality. We are achieving considerable environmental gains by avoiding mining and transport”, adds Roel Bontrup. “All samples are extensively analysed in Labora, the laboratory of the VanDrie Group, in connection with food safety and CA Minerals now supplies calcium to various livestock feed producers of the VanDrie Group.”
In this way, sustainability goes hand in hand with animal health.
“This new raw material is in keeping with our ambition to avoid waste and to give residual waste flows the highest possible value. That is possible in this way from the drinking water purification, from which we can use this calcium source. It comes from nearby and does not involve many transport kilometres. It is simple and practical”, according to Eelke.
“An additional advantage is that we see that the calf absorbs the calcium in its body more quickly when it is dispensed using this new way of dispensing. A second advantage is that the product comes in the rumen via the muesli. Because it so finely ground, it can quickly have a buffering effect there. Normally, volatile fatty acids are released during the rumen fermentation of carbohydrates. Volatile fatty acids are partly absorbed and partly lead to a pH drop in the rumen. And if you have a buffering mineral like calcium, then the acid is bound. As a result of this, the pH drop is prevented and bacteria retain their proper function. In this way, sustainability goes hand in hand with animal health.”
Greenhouse emissions in the chain
Within our companies and together with partners, we are working in a focused way on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from our activities and our supply chain in order to limit the environmental effects.
Reducing our carbon footprint
Methane is formed through fermentation in the rumen of the calf and in the manure in stalls, manure cellars and manure silos. In this way, methane ends up in the atmosphere via the animal (through burping) and via stall emissions. The VanDrie Group is playing an active role in searching for specific solutions that contribute to the reduction of methane emissions in veal farming. We are doing that in two ways.
On the one hand, our R&D department started conducting research into opportunities to improve the feed composition by means of additives. We are working closely together with suppliers of raw materials for that purpose. We are also exchanging knowledge with the dairy farming sector, where successful results have now been achieved in reducing emissions through altering feeds. This research will continue in 2022.
On the other hand, we are providing support via the Dutch Veal Industry Association (SBK) to various sector-based initiatives, which are conducting research into modifications in the stall that contribute to the reduction of emissions of both methane and ammonia. In 2021, preparations were made for various research projects and we applied for funding. One research project focuses on the effective application of manure scrapers and the modification of the stall floor, which should result in a better separation of the solid and liquid slurries. Another research project is looking at promising ways to dilute the manure with water. We hope to get started with both research projects in 2022.
Another specific focus point within our R&D department is reducing proteins in our feeds. Proteins are essential for the growth of the calf and the support of the general processes in the animal’s body. Proteins contain nitrogen, however, as a result of which the calf emits nitrogen into the environment. In 2021 a new recipe with lower protein content was implemented for a number of our feeds for older calves. This is a result of multi-year research from our R&D department. In the practice stalls of our three research centres, various concepts were extensively tested for this. An important insight from this research is that there is much to be gained by aligning the feed composition to the needs of the specific age of the animal, in terms of nitrogen emission reduction, as well as animal welfare and health. The results of this research will be incorporated in the development of our feeds for calves in different life stages in the coming years.
In 2021, the VanDrie Group started mapping out the environmental effects of the production of veal and calf skins even better on the basis of a so-called ‘Life Cycle Analysis’ (LCA). We apply the methods of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations and the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) of the European Commission. We also started calculating our Organisational Environmental Footprint (OEF), so that we gain insight into the environmental performance of all our company activities. We received support for methodology and reference values from Blonk Consultants for both the LCA and the OEF. As a result of this assessment and standardisation of our data, we are able to focus effectively on our environmental impact. At the same time, we can offer transparency to chain partners who want more insight into our sustainability position.