The VanDrie Dialogue: in conversation with our stakeholders

In a time that sees much public debate being fed by prejudice and misconception, the VanDrie Group is taking the debate to its stakeholders during the fourth VanDrie Dialogue.

05-02-2020

Listening carefully to our stakeholders is a precondition for a future-proof organisation.” With these words, Director Corporate Affairs Marijke Everts opened the fourth VanDrie Dialogue. In everything the VanDrie Group does, the primary focus is on healthy, sustainable and animal-friendly food production. This requires the critical scrutiny of important issues such as calf imports and animal welfare, but also the relevance of the veal sector to the increasing global demand for high-quality proteins and the licence to produce in the Netherlands. To be able to formulate policy with respect to these and other matters, it is necessary to maintain an on-going dialogue with stakeholders about the performance of our organisation. The VanDrie Group does this through the VanDrie Dialogue.

On Tuesday, 14 January 2020, the VanDrie Group organised the fourth VanDrie Dialogue in conjunction with CLM. Veal farmers, dairy farmers, Dutch animal protection organisation Dierenbescherming, scientists from various disciplines, government, commercial entities and members of staff of the VanDrie Group spent an afternoon discussing what a sustainable production chain should look like. Marijke Everts: “Social and economic factors influence the activities and operations of the VanDrie Group. We face shifting expectations in society, stricter laws and regulations, and it’s not without reason that the climate is a hot topic. These issues demand from us as an organisation that we are open to other points of view and never shirk taboo.”

A very interesting discussion ensued, fed by scientific fact and insight, augmented with the experience and perspectives of stakeholders with boots squarely on the ground - or more appropriately perhaps - in the shed. Many subjects were covered: from sustainability results and the slaughter age of calves to communication about the chain and VanDrie Group’s market position.

Hans Blonk of Blonk Consultants, a leading consulting agency in the field of environment and sustainability, illustrates the sustainability of the Dutch veal sector.  He does so with the help of a lifecycle analysis: “By adding together the environmental effects of the various links in the chain, we have been able to analyse systematically the environmental effects of the production of different kinds of veal. In addition to regular veal, young and mature rosé veal were also included in the analysis. This makes it possible to say something about the most efficient way of keeping calves based on environmental aspects. Noteworthy in this respect is the fact that a higher slaughter age is accompanied by increased environmental impact. This is due to growth becoming less efficient after about 8 months and the increased ruminant methane emissions.”

Theun Vellinga, a researcher at Wageningen University, talks about the sustainability results in the veal sector, too. He, however, has a different view of the optimum slaughter age of calves: “Calves from the dairy industry have a smaller carbon footprint as compared to beef cattle, for the carbon footprint is partially attributable to the production of dairy.” But he is critical, too: “To maximise use of the growth potential, calves may be kept longer than the regular seven to eight months.” Veal farmer Erik van Dronkelaar can affirm that: “That’s what we’re already doing, in actual fact, in the veal sector. While my father used to deliver the calves at six months at the most, we keep them longer and achieve better results.” Where keeping calves for longer is advantageous from a scientific point of view, Loek Carabain, director at Van Der Zee Vleesgrootverbruik, points out a drawback: “For the catering industry, taste is an important aspect. As beef, the current dairy breeds and her calves have an inferior meat quality in terms of taste. The feasibility of allowing calves that are now used in the veal farming sector to continue to grow as multi-year bulls is something I’d advise against on grounds of taste.”

During the dialogue, the stakeholders find themselves in agreement about their conviction that communication about the veal sector towards Dutch citizens is lacking. But then veal farmer Bert van Middendorp makes a challenging point:“Currently, 93% of the veal is exported.  Why would a party like the VanDrie Group worry about the way the Dutch view veal?”

Marijke Everts has a very clear opinion on this matter: “Without broad popular support, there would be no justification for our presence in the Netherlands. As the VanDrie Group, we are therefore obliged to tell our story and also to be proud of our chain, in the Netherlands more than elsewhere!” Dick Veerman, founder of Foodlog.nl, believes that the VanDrie Group should go a step further than communication alone:

“The demand for animal proteins is increasing globally. Calves in the dairy sector that are reared on residuals and optimally processed have value in a world where proteins are scarce. Actively involve citizens in the VanDrie group chain in order to relate this narrative.”

It is abundantly clear to the VanDrie Group that discussions with stakeholders are hugely important.  Stakeholder participation creates value and mutual understanding - bring on the next VanDrie Dialogue!

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