Vion: Raw materials are ‘not a tap to turn on or off at will’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Raw materials Anaerobic digestion

Vion: Raw materials are ‘not a tap to turn on or off at will’
A guaranteed supply of raw materials cannot be taken for granted as the population expands and the climate changes, the UK boss of meat processing giant Vion UK told delegates at the IGD Convention in London yesterday.

Raw materials were not a tap that could simply be turned off or on at the convenience of food retailers and manufacturers, Ton Christiaanse warned his audience. “There's a need to recognise that raw materials are not a tap to turn on, or off, at will. The industry cannot afford to pay lip service to farming, and farming is too fragile to subsidise the rest of the food chain.”

He added: “The world expects farmers to make an enormous transformation; to re-position our production systems to increase both their efficiency and their environmental sustainability. Globally, farming is big business, but it is not big enough to meet these challenges alone.

“This requires the active collaboration of all supply chain partners, from farmers and processors, to retailers and foodservice operators, and also consumers.”

Waste to energy

One area in which collaboration was particularly critical was managing the by-products of animal slaughter, by turning the bits of pigs and other animals we don’t eat into value-added ingredients for the agricultural, food and pharmaceutical industries, or using them as a raw material for the production of green energy, he said.

“Animal fat, for example, is an excellent second generation biomass, yet in the EU, today only 30% is used for the production of energy.

“At Vion, our ingredients business produces more than 80% of its own thermal energy. And further investment in biofuel production is planned. But I might also add that this energy is produced not only from our own meat processing by-products, but also from those of our competitors and customers.

“To some, the thought of working with competitors may seem, to say the least, strange. However, carbon reduction must be about working together for the common good. The effective management of slaughter by-products is a good example of where a joint approach can benefit all parties.”

Over-reliance on Russian gas

But the effects would also go far beyond the food industry, he observed. “By 2012, 80% of the EU's gas will be imported, with 60% of this coming from Russia. And I don't need to spell out the danger of relying on Russia for such resource.”

Vion’s waste to energy initiatives were the most advanced in the Netherlands, where the farmer-owned firm supplies the E.ON power station near Rotterdam with animal meal for its incinerator, but had also invested heavily in its own anaerobic digestion facilities, he said. “We’re one of the Netherlands' largest producers of sustainable energy from digestion units.”

Vion was also building a new anaerobic reactor in Lingen, Germany, he added. “As we move forward, we plan to transfer this knowledge to our operations here in the UK.”

Vion was ”probably the largest farmer-owned business in the world”,​ with a turnover of €9bn, said Christiaanse.

Related topics Meat, poultry & seafood

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