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Case study: How Vion promotes food safety

Vion is an international food producer, with production locations in the Netherlands and Germany and sales support offices in thirteen countries worldwide. Control of food safety is a fundamental part of work at Vion  Tweet This! as every day, more than 100 million consumers eat products that have been produced by Vion.

This case study is based on the 2019 Corporate Social Responsibility Report by Vion published on the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Disclosure Database that can be found at this link. Through all case studies we aim to demonstrate what CSR/ ESG/ sustainability reporting done responsibly means. Essentially, it means: a) identifying a company’s most important impacts on the environment, economy and society, and b) measuring, managing and changing.

Layout 1Abstract

Vion has a holistic management approach to food safety, taking into account production plants, suppliers, co-producers and the intended use of products by the consumer. In order to promote food safety Vion took action to:

  • promote research into the potential of modern technologies in microbiology
  • combat Listeria and Toxoplasma
  • decrease exposure to hepatitis E
  • reduce the salt content of meat products and bacon

What are the material issues the company has identified?            

In its 2019 Corporate Social Responsibility Report Vion identified a range of material issues, such as traceability and product integrity, animal welfare, fair pricing, working conditions, carbon footprint of processing. Among these, promoting food safety stands out as a key material issue for Vion.

Stakeholder engagement in accordance with the GRI Standards              

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) defines the Principle of Stakeholder Inclusiveness when identifying material issues (or a company’s most important impacts) as follows:

“The reporting organization shall identify its stakeholders, and explain how it has responded to their reasonable expectations and interests.”

Stakeholders must be consulted in the process of identifying a company’s most important impacts and their reasonable expectations and interests must be taken into account. This is an important cornerstone for CSR / sustainability reporting done responsibly.

Key stakeholder groups Vion engages with:

To identify and prioritise material topics Vion engaged with its stakeholders through the following channels:

Stakeholder Group                Method of engagement (in 2019)
Consumers

 

 

·      Yearly Food Service Consumer Trend Analysis

·      Questions and remarks from consumers; each remark from a consumer is answered personally

Customers

 

 

·      Ad hoc direct talks by the Sales and Quality Assurance Departments

·      Biennial Client Satisfaction Analysis

Suppliers

 

 

·      Ad hoc dialogues by the Purchasing and Quality Assurance Departments

·      Workshops

·      Annual meetings of farmer’s associations

·      Events for suppliers

·      Lectures at producer meetings

·      Guided plant tours for suppliers

Farmer associations

 

·      Ad hoc bilateral meetings

·      Yearly sector meetings

·      Yearly farmers’ association supervisory boards

·      Presentations at annual meetings

Financial stakeholders ·      Ad hoc direct talks by the board

·      Quarterly supervisory board meetings

Public authorities

 

 

·      Ad hoc direct talks by the Public Affairs and Quality Assurance Departments and the Line Management

·      Engagement in Topsector Agri & Food, as well as round table discussions on other specific projects and dialogues

·      Yearly benchmark on the CSR in the Netherlands

Round table groups

 

 

·      Round table meetings and technical advisory group meetings

·      Member of the Steering Committees

NGOs

 

·      Ad hoc direct talks, council or round table discussions with some NGOs

·      Collaboration in the European Animal Welfare Platform

Workers and works councils

 

·      Frequent (at least) monthly informal meetings

·      Annual performance planning and review meetings

·      Town hall meetings

·      Annual Top 150 management meetings

Trade unions

 

·      Frequent (at least monthly) informal meetings

·      Quarterly formal meetings

·      Collective bargaining agreements

·      FNLI Taskforce Human Capital Agenda Food

Trade organisations

 

·      Membership on the Board of COV, VDF and BGN

·      Membership on the Board of FNLI and Innofood Twente

·      Member of CoViVa

Competitors

 

·      Ad hoc or in trade organisations

·      SAI Platform

Certifications schemes

 

·      Yearly audits

·      Direct membership in the governing bodies or technical advisory groups of a number of certification schemes

·      Chair of the Dutch mirror group NEN-ISO for Animal Welfare

·      Member of the Board of GlobalGAP and IFS

Science

 

·      Ad hoc direct talks

·      Joint research projects

·      Scientific publications

·      Diplomats and residents of ECVPH

·      Member of the Editorial Board VMT / Food Safety

Media

 

·      Yearly congress and workshops

·      Regular meetings and open communication

·      Proactive dialogues and messaging

·      Daily answering of media requests

·      Member of the jury

Neighbours

 

·      Open days in the case of (re)new(ed) production sites

·      Formal dialogues in the case of specific enlargement approval procedures

·      Meetings with sounding board of neighbours

What actions were taken by Vion to promote food safety?

In its 2019 Corporate Social Responsibility Report Vion reports that it took the following actions for promoting food safety:

  • Promoting research into the potential of modern technologies in microbiology
  • Vion cooperates with several academia and other scientific groups, e.g. with Freie Universität Berlin, Wageningen University (WUR), Utrecht University, Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR) and IBM. For example, Vion works with IBM and WUR on the topic of whole genome sequencing (WGS) and microbiome analyses. This project offers insight into how groups of bacteria live together in biofilms, and whether they form or prevent an ideal environment for harmful bacteria such as Listeria or Salmonella. All sampling occurred at Vion Boxtel during 2018 and 2019. Analyses were carried out with so-called next-generation sequencing techniques.
  • Combatting Listeria and Toxoplasma
  • Vion recognises Listeria as a relevant food safety hazard. This means that products and the production environment are routinely monitored for the presence of Listeria. Ready-to-eat foods in which Listeria can multiply are subjected to a so-called negative release programme: multiple samples of the product are taken from each batch and screened for the presence of Listeria. The batch is released only when the bacterium is not detected in these samples. For a number of years, Vion has also cooperated with Wageningen University and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) on toxoplasma. The research showed that only a few farms face a challenge in controlling toxoplasma infections in their pigs. Using an intervention study on these farms, the prevalence of toxoplasma was reduced. Biosecurity is one of the key elements in the control strategy of toxoplasma, e.g. stray cats that enter the farm are considered a relevant risk. On other farms, the hygienic storage of feed paid extra attention to keeping cats and rodents out.
  • Decreasing exposure to hepatitis E
  • A few years ago, Vion and other meat industry partners showed how to control hepatitis E virus in meat products with the aim of reducing foodborne risks. Not processing pork liver into raw fermented products was shown to substantially effect humans’ exposure to hepatitis E. In January 2019, Vion began a scientific research project together with Utrecht University, Wageningen University and seven supply chain partners. A PhD student studied the possibilities of controlling the virus on pig farms, with the aim of reducing the infectivity of pigs at slaughter and to reduce the associated public health risks. By taking control measures at the farm, Vion also tackles other transmission routes, including direct contact with pigs and environmental transmission. The results of this project are expected in 2022.
  • Reducing the salt content of meat products and bacon
  • For several years, Vion has had an ongoing strategy to reduce the salt content and especially the nitrite concentration of its meat products and bacon. Vion lowered the salt content in its consumer products, such as cooked ham and bacon, by between 10% and 50% during recent years. Concerning bacon, Vion is participating in a project which aims to reduce the added nitrate content from 150 particles per million (ppm) to 15 ppm, without compromising food safety.

Which GRI Standards and corresponding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been addressed?

The GRI Standard addressed in this case is: Disclosure 416-1 Assessment of the health and safety impacts of product and service categories

Disclosure 416-1 Assessment of the health and safety impacts of product and service categories does not correspond to any SDG.

 

80% of the world’s 250 largest companies report in accordance with the GRI Standards

SustainCase was primarily created to demonstrate, through case studies, the importance of dealing with a company’s most important impacts in a structured way, with use of the GRI Standards. To show how today’s best-run companies are achieving economic, social and environmental success – and how you can too.

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References:

1) This case study is based on published information by Vion, located at the link below. For the sake of readability, we did not use brackets or ellipses. However, we made sure that the extra or missing words did not change the report’s meaning. If you would like to quote these written sources from the original, please revert to the original on the Global Reporting Initiative’s Sustainability Disclosure Database at the link:

http://database.globalreporting.org/

2) https://www.globalreporting.org/standards/gri-standards-download-center/

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