Veal industry fits well into circular agriculture

At the beginning of September, Carola Schouten, the Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, published her vision for agriculture in the future. In the future vision ‘Agriculture, nature and food: valuable and connected’, the minister states that Dutch agriculture needs to switch to a different system of producing food: circular agriculture. This is an agricultural system where nothing is wasted and where waste flows are exploited to the maximum. The Dutch veal industry fits this vision well.

The Dutch veal sector started in the 1960s. With the growing demand for dairy products, the number of dairy cows in the Netherlands grew enormously. A cow needs to have a calf every year to continue producing milk. In no time at all, there was a surplus of calves that were not needed to replace the dairy herd (bull calves and surplus heifers). In that period, they started raising these calves that were not suitable for dairy farming for the benefit of veal production instead. The veal industry has now grown into a sector of world stature. This sector employs more than 10,000 people and veal production alone is worth at least €2.1 billion at consumer level. One of the major players is the VanDrie Group. This Dutch family company is a global market leader. Henny Swinkels (Director Corporate Affairs) says that thinking in circular terms and making use of waste flows forms part of the VanDrie Group’s policy. “We also capitalize on waste flows and by-products from other sectors in various ways. We buy calves from the dairy farming sector that are not suitable for replacing the dairy herd. We process whey (a by-product from the cheese industry) into calf feed. We use waste products from grain processing and oil seeds as feed.”  The VanDrie Group also tries to make total use of the calf. Not one single part of a calf is regarded as waste. Creating value from everything is the policy target.  Swinkels: “We process the manure produced by our calves and we process calfskins for sale to the leather industry. For our slaughterhouses, maximizing economic value means that we use all parts of the calf, i.e. the meat, organs, manure, blood, skin and other by-products. Not much remains after all this. The little that is left over goes to an incinerator and is converted into green electricity. In addition, we are constantly growing our sales markets so that all products find a good home.” Although the VanDrie Group has already integrated circular thinking into its policy, the company is not resting on its laurels. According to the Director Corporate Affairs, the VanDrie Group continues to invest in optimization and innovation. “We feel responsible for the surroundings and the environment. We are aware that our production has an impact on the environment in the Netherlands and in other countries. We want to minimize that. We are examining, for example, the composition of our feed, but also the way our calves digest it. By making this as balanced as possible, you can be really smart in reducing emissions.” 

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