Vion tackles sustainability challenges on meat production

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Ton Christiannse, CEO of Vion Food UK, told delegates at the 2010 IGD Convention how the global meat producer is meeting sustainability challenges on a number of levels.

Later, premium sausage brand Debbie & Andrew’s, one of the brands in Vion’s portfolio, presented their journey from farm to fork and recent recognition by the Sunday Times as a business on the up.

Christiannse said Vion is probably the largest farmer-owned business in the world. In the UK it is focused on supplying own label meat and meat products to the grocery multiples.

“With size comes responsibility. We are absolutely aware of our obligation to be a leader in reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture, while recognising the need to feed the population,” he said.

Christiannse said the company was committed to improving animal health and welfare and was making progress via initiatives such as producer clubs.

As a leading pig farmer, Vion is taking steps to address consumer concerns for higher welfare in its production processes, said Christiannse. Pigs were also efficient converters of by-products and moving forward there may be further opportunities to use other by-products as a source of animal feed, he said.

In poultry the company is able to offer ‘produce of Scotland’ status across all welfare tiers – chicks, feed and processing.

“Not only does this have the the benefit of meeting increasing consumer demand for local produce, development of this Scottish supply chain has resulted in a reduction of more than 1m food miles,” said Christiannse.

Christiannse presented the scope for by-products, such as animal fat, from different livestock.

He revealed how the company was improving self-sufficiency in Holland by supplying a power station with animal meat for the incinerator. It provides green electricity to over 50,000 homes, he said, and represents a reduction of 150,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

It has also invested in anaerobic reactors to convert waste products into green electricity and further moves are planned in this area.

The use of slaughter by-products does not stop at green energy production, said Christiannse. Vion is the biggest global supplier of gelatine, used in confectionery and pharmaceuticals industries and a leading supplier of materials for bone china.

The company is also committed to the development of foundation foods, he said. One example is Peptan, which is claimed to improve bone health in elderly people and assist in the maintenance of healthy skin.

Christiannse said Vion’s global scale allowed it to pinpoint and transfer best practice, “because carbon reduction and food security must be viewed as a social commitment, and not a competitive advantage”.

Christiannse said retailers and farmers must work together to meet these targets and satisfy consumer needs.