In Conversation with … QSHE manager Christian and Auditor Benno

At least once a year Benno Smith comes knocking on the door at the VanDrie Group's Dutch feed production sites. As an auditor at Lloyd's Register, Benno is responsible for the audit of GMP+ certification. GMP+ stands for Good Manufacturing Practice and is an important certification. All the animal feed companies in the VanDrie Group are GMP+ certified in order to safeguard the processes and products. Benno's audit starts every year with a cup of coffee with Christian Kievit, As QSHE manager, Christian carries responsibility for Quality, Health, Safety and Environment within the animal feed companies of the VanDrie Group in the Netherlands.


How does a GMP+ audit work?

Benno Smith: 'During a GMP+ audit, I look at the processes and departments within the company which have a responsibility in the field of food and feed safety. The VanDrie Group's feed production sites have a lot of these. For instance, purchase of raw materials, production, transport, quality service, HACCP, feed safety. GMP+ standards have been adopted for all these processes. The quality of the product is taken into account as part of this. Think, for example, of the homogeneity of the mixers.'

Christian Kievit: 'During the annual external audit I first go through the planning of the day together with Benno. We also discuss the changes and developments that have taken place within the company over the past year. This is important for the auditor to know, because they have to be tested again against the standard. The actual audit then takes place in two steps, first by means of interviews with employees, then by going through documentation and registration in Safety Guard, our quality system.’

With GMP+ certification, the VanDrie Group gives a feed safety guarantee to customers. - Benno Smith

Smith: 'Within the various processes, I very much like to speak to employees. During a meeting with the purchasing manager, I check whether purchasing requirements are being met. But there are also various requirements within the GMP+ standard for emptying silos which I am happy to discuss with the production managers and operators. After the interviews, together with Christian, I check in the quality system whether the steps that the employees tell me about have also been recorded. With the legislation and the standard in mind, I look for an answer to the question: is the company doing what it says it is and is it complying with the legislation and the standard?'

For the GMP+ standard, an auditor carries out the audit at the same company for a maximum of three consecutive years. Two of the audits are announced and one is unannounced. In order to improve the audit process, another auditor then takes over the process.

What happens if you discover a difference between what an employee says and what is in the system?

Smith: ‘That can happen. If I hear during an interview that a standard has not been followed, I look for the reason behind it. I check the information obtained with Christian and ask for an explanation for not acting according to the standard. Sometimes there's a good reason and sometimes there isn’t. Depending on this information, we will determine whether this is within the limiting values of the standard. If this is not the case, I record a finding which may become a new objective for the organisation.’

Some believe that the use of external auditors prevents companies, employees and chain partners from really taking ownership of the issues. As a result, only temporary rather than permanent improvements are made in order to score better during the external audits. What's your take on this?

Kievit: 'An audit is a mechanism to help us and to further improve our business operations. For this reason, we closely examine our quality issues throughout the year by means of an internal audit system. We continuously test the same points that an auditor comes to check once a year and take his findings into account. If something does not meet the standard, we record this in internal audit and improvement reports. We then look for a structural solution so that the process is thoroughly monitored.’

Smith: 'When I make a finding one year, I always include it in the audit cycle the next year. I want to see how it's been followed up. The assurance of quality management lies more with the company itself. If you're only going to do that for the auditor to see, you're just fooling yourself. An auditor evaluates the system with an objective view. Every shortcoming is also an opportunity to improve.’

An audit is a mechanism to help us and to further improve our business operations. - Christian Kievit

What do the VanDrie Group's animal feed customers gain from a GMP+ audit?

Smith: 'With GMP+ certification, the VanDrie Group issues a feed safety guarantee to customers. In addition, GMP+ offers chain assurance because it also contains requirements which not only the direct suppliers of the VanDrie Group must comply with, but also the suppliers who are further back in the chain. For example, the standard contains conditions for the transport of the corn flour purchased by the VanDrie Group, but also conditions for the cultivation methods on the soy fields in South America, such as the use of banned pesticides and GMOs. Even the communication with the customer is laid down in the standard.'

Kievit: 'The VanDrie Group even goes a step further. As chain director, we want to look ahead and continue to improve and optimize within each chain link. For this reason we are not only looking at the sections of the GMP+ standard which are relevant to our work processes, but the entire standard has been the guideline for internal audits for the past eighteen months. As a result, the process owners within our companies are even more familiar with the requirements and can better educate their colleagues within their department about the standard. In this way, we raise the quality awareness within our organisation to a higher level. Our customers benefit from this.’

The food sector faces ever-increasing demands. What does the VanDrie Group have to take into account?

Smith: 'Surroundings and the environment are becoming more and more important. But in the field of food safety too the requirements are becoming increasingly strict, such as food defence, fraud, traceability and allergens. Sustainability stakeholders expect transparency around these themes. For the VanDrie Group it is important to be proactive in this regard and to communicate with stakeholders.’

Kievit: 'We also do this as much as possible. On the one hand by keeping a close eye on upcoming changes in legislation and regulations and on the other hand by continuously monitoring our stakeholders’ expectations. It’s therefore important to stay in touch with our stakeholders, including politicians and NGOs, but also the municipality and local residents. The internal and external audits keep us on our toes. We discuss all these insights during periodic quality meetings between representatives of our four Dutch feed companies. A lot of things are changing at a furious pace in this day and age. The synergy between our companies enables us to anticipate future developments.’

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