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SDG 2: Zero Hunger

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In conversation with… Karel van Westreenen, Operational Director at Ameco

Ameco has been processing cattle into high-quality beef products for many years, and in recent years, the company has been developing the concept of pasture-raised beef. Ameco has been able to offer this outdoor grazing guarantee on a larger scale since 2021, as a result of changes in the production process and quality assurance system. In this way, they are meeting the increasing consumer demand for local and animal-friendly meat. However, the company is also working actively to bolster dairy farmers’ income. Dairy farmers receive a supplement if they deliver cattle with an outdoor grazing certificate. According to operations director Karel van Westreenen, this is a wonderful development for the farmer, the customer and Ameco alike. We sit down to talk to him. 

Ameco and the VanDrie Group, that appears to be a close cooperation doesn’t it?

‘My father founded Ameco (Amsterdam Meat Company) in 2003. By merging a number of smaller meat companies, the volume and management capacity was created that made it possible to respond effectively to customers’ needs and to keep pace with the rapid increase in scale within the sector. Following the construction of new premises in Apeldoorn in 2017, this subsequently led to the VanDrie Group taking up a shareholding in 2018. That participation has helped Ameco to flourish in several respects – it has made us financially stronger, more effective in trade, but it has especially helped us in terms of knowledge sharing in the fields of quality, animal welfare, safety and HR In fact, there is an enormous amount of synergy.

Karel van Westreenen

At Ameco, we mainly process cattle from the Netherlands and at the present time, this accounts for about 2,800 head of cattle per week. In addition, we process about 600 calves every week. The meat is made suitable as semi-finished product for the Dutch cold meat industry, retail, hotel and catering industry and the convenience industry. Approximately 300 people are currently employed by Ameco on a daily basis.

Its shareholding in Ameco fits perfectly within the VanDrie Group’s circular sustainability strategy and chain integration. Both the calf and the dairy cow at the end of her milk production period come from the dairy farmer. Between 20 and 30 per cent of Dutch dairy cows are taken out of milk production each year. We acquire a portion of these animals for processing. Close cooperation with the dairy farmer is of paramount importance. We know that dairy farmers take good care of the welfare and health of the dairy cows. It is up to us to ultimately make beautiful, tasty products for the retail, catering and food service sectors. We do this with craftsmanship, respect for the animal and with great attention to all the applicable standards and values in the meat processing industry. And if you add the calf husbandry, the dairy activities and the animal feed production of the VanDrie Group to that, you can see that the company is maximising the value of the animal protein chain.’ 

Which trends are you seeing in the beef market?

‘The importance of sustainable production chains is increasing throughout the world. Companies are increasingly being held to account, but many companies also want to become more sustainable themselves. That certainly applies to us. As long as the global population continues growing, the demand for animal protein will only increase. What we can see is that ‘Dutch pasture-raised beef’ is in a position to help satisfy that growing demand.

The dairy cow is used for her milk production, but the animal can also, in the second instance, end up on a plate as a nutritious piece of meat. After slaughter, 70 percent of meat is transformed into a minced meat product. For example, it may end up in a kromesky, a minced meat schnitzel or in a hamburger. It is very tasty and nicely aged meat. The other 30 percent concerns the so-called ‘technical parts’, such as entrecote and ribeye. My father has actually been saying for 20 years already: “You have that dairy cow and it’s wonderful that you can make a piece of high-quality beef from that.” In my view, the fact that we can now supply Dutch pasture-raised beef is the crowning glory of his life’s work.’

As long as the global population continues growing, the demand for animal protein will only increase. What we can see is that ‘Dutch pasture-raised beef’ is in a position to help satisfy that growing demand.

Karel van Westreenen

How does the registration of pasture-raised beef work and what’s the benefit of that to the dairy farmer?

‘The animal must be registered with us by the dairy farmer, who must hold an outdoor grazing certificate for the relevant livestock location (UBN). That can be done online, but also via a simple app. In that way, we can trace each animal upon supply and it is clear to us whether it is an ordinary cow or a pasture-raised cow. Pasture-raised cows are animals that have been in the pasture on the dairy farm of origin for at least 120 days per year, 6 hours per day. They can receive an outdoor grazing certificate, which is issued by the Dutch Grazing Foundation (Stichting Weidegang). We have asked Kiwa, an independent certification organisation, to guarantee this procedure for us.

Dairy farmers’ income is improving. We pay a standard supplement of 10 cents per kilo for animals with an outdoor grazing certificate, and that is now working. We currently have about 800 to 900 cattle on average every week that are supplied to us with such a certificate.’

You are creating a new standard in the form of this dual-purpose cow. Why?

‘The price of meat has risen sharply in recent times. That is primarily due to rising raw material prices. In addition, the increasing demand for South American meat in China is playing a role, as a result of which less beef is available for the European market. At the same time, we are seeing milk prices rise, which means that dairy farmers are parting with their cows less quickly. Even if a cow only produces eight to nine litres or milk per day, that still provides a return. As a result of this, the supply of cattle is continuing to decrease and that scarcity is then reflected in the prices. The Dutch pasture-raised beef therefore forms a welcome addition to the shrinking supply of beef. In addition, by rewarding dairy farmers for grazing their cattle outdoors, we are contributing to their income and improving animal welfare at the same.’

What kinds of ambitions do you have for the future with this concept?

‘At present, we are primarily supplying our Dutch pasture-raised beef to the retail sector, but not yet to the cold meat industry or the hotel and catering industry, though we expect to start doing so shortly. The demand for local and animal-friendly meat will continue to grow and because we have the knowledge and innovative capacity in-house, we want to seize that opportunity with both hands. This will help to ensure that livestock are optimally utilised in order to secure our food supply here in the Netherlands.’