Interview with Dr Bert Urlings, veterinarian and quality director of Vion
As a meat producer, Vion is judged on its ability to reliably supply perfect products to customers. How does your company’s quality system work?
Based on a comprehensive quality system and our centrally coordinated HACCP concept, we have defined our own key aspects and standards, most of which are above the standards used internationally. Our competitors also closely monitor what we do in this area.
How important is the quality system in your company?
Very important. Our system with its many internal inspections and audits in our Dutch and German companies helps us meet the requirements of even the most demanding customers as well as the extremely high export standards in complex markets such as the United States, Japan and China. This is the result of years of extremely hard work.
How can you prove this to your customers?
Every year, over 150,000 laboratory tests are performed on our products. The American inspectors are considered the strictest in the world. They always spend several days in our companies. Dutch Vion companies are on the shortlist for the import of pork in the United States. We have also been able to convince Chinese inspectors of the quality on many of our locations. Finally, we also work well with the Japanese, who are true experts in detecting flaws in meat. Their consumers too, who only accept flawless products, are very satisfied with the quality Vion delivers.
Systems never work perfectly, not even at Vion. How does your company deal with mistakes?
Wherever people are at work, mistakes are made. And a meat-processing company employs a lot of people. First of all, we take every complaint seriously. The causes of mistakes are carefully analysed to prevent them in the future. We ensure that the truth comes out, and we are willing to make structural changes, if necessary. We want to learn from every mistake and become even better.
Animal welfare is becoming increasingly important for consumers. What do you have to offer in this respect?
Our abattoirs have been completely modernised in terms of animal welfare in recent years. We have also invested a lot of time and money in the people who handle living animals, and we have tightened up our inspection system. For instance, we have gained positive experiences with CCTV camera surveillance. This enables us to check whether mistakes are made, even weeks after the fact.
Vion is also taking steps with regard to livestock farming. We are co-founder of the Beter Leven programme in the Netherlands, are involved in the Initiative Tierwohl in Germany, have marketed a label together with the German Society for the Protection of Animals, and we implement regional programmes.