Contaminated hydrochloric acid was the cause of the incident in January (see boxout ‘Faulty filter’). This hydrochloric acid is a technical additive used in the production of gelatine. The Dutch dioxin incident of 2004 was also caused by a technical additive: clay that was used in sorting potatoes. In both cases, dioxin was found in residue from the food industry used in animal feed.
Survey of additives
The incidents induced the Dutch Product Board Animal Feed (Nederlandse Productschap Diervoeder, or PDV) to speed up the taking of measures. The PDV is currently taking stock of the use of additives in the food industry. After all, many of the raw materials used in animal feed are a by-product of food production. The survey is focusing on technical additives (like anti-foaming agents or flaking agents), utilities (including coolants, fuels and cleaning products) and additives (such as preservatives). The total comes to more than 150 different substances.
The next step is to assess the potential risks associated with the use of these substances. The incidents have revealed that assessment has not always been sufficient on critical points in the production process and in the product (HACCP). This assessment focuses mainly on the safety of food intended for human consumption.
The PDV is drawing up a list of facts for each substance with information about the chemical structure of the substance, the hazards it causes to people, animals and the environment, any legislative or other norms, methods of analysis and avoidable risks. All the is will result in the autumn in an estimate of the dangers connected with using raw materials from the food industry in animal feed. The risk assessment of the use of additives can then be refined and improved in order to prevent incidents from occurring.
Suppliers of raw materials receive a lot of attention from animal feed companies in any case. The Dutch sector organisation, Nevedi, and the PDV feel that the assessment, selection and evaluation of suppliers are aspects that need to be improved. These are vulnerable points as incidents with contaminated animal feed have shown. For this reason, a number of major Dutch companies in the dairy industry and Dutch meat processing companies are also demanding that the animal feed sector takes fitting measures. After all, these incidents cause a loss of image and markets and much financial damage. The safety of animal feed is therefore being allocated a crucial role in quality assurance throughout the entire chain.
The PDV is shouldering its responsibility by drawing up an action plan, which will be completed before the end of the year. It contains five aspects. Apart from the assessment o suppliers mentioned above, more intensive monitoring of raw materials is a second point. For example, it is not sufficient just to check fats for PCBs as an indication of dioxin, as the incident in January showed. Random checks will be carried out to test for dioxin. Frequent examination will be sufficient for other substances, if the production process can be controlled properly. The PDV wants to make full batch control or very frequent sampling and analysis mandatory for uncontrollable production processes. For example, GMP+ already makes 100 percent entry checks compulsory for heavy materials and additives of mineral origin in feed.
If incidents and crises occur, business itself will take preventative measures more quickly. This third point in the action plan entails a possible temporary embargo and canalisation in the animal chain (from animal feed, cattle farms to the meat, dairy, egg trade and industry). By doing so, the sector wants to pre-empt legislative measures. The Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (Nederlandse Voedsel en Warenautoriteit, or VWA) limits itself to monitoring the correct and effective implementation by business. In the dioxin incident last January, this appeared to work excellently at first (later, the VWA decided to implement measures in the Netherlands after all, whereas the Belgian Food Agency, Voedselagentschap, took the lead from the beginning).
The dioxin incident also brought the fourth point for attention into play: tracing and linking data in the chain. The cattle farming chain needs to focus its thoughts and actions on being able to intervene quickly if something goes wrong. Human errors will remain; various recalls in supermarkets show that zero risk does not exist. Thorough crisis management stands or falls with being able to get a quick picture of the businesses involved. In January, the source of the dioxin was found within a few days. We also knew within one day which cattle farms in the Netherlands had received contaminated feed. The privacy of the company code for livestock farms turned out to act as a delaying factor in the Netherlands. Because of that, the PDV has now asked the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) to abolish that privacy.
The last point in the action plan is the streamlining of GMP+ with ISO 22000. Here, too, the PDV wants the animal feed sector to add valuable substance to its position in the food chain. The sector has come a long way. Recently, the Dutch Board of Accreditation (Raad voor Accreditatie, or RvA) upgraded GMP+ to the international standard for certification (See boxout ‘GMP+ as an international standard’). The animal feed sector also survived the test of a new incident in the early months of this year.
This underlines the sector’s attitude. It even thinks it can be an example for the human food industry. After all, animal feed quality assurance has ensured that shortcomings in the food industry have come to light in recent years, which the industry itself had not tracked down. It again shows that both sectors have much common ground, and that both can benefit from a joint approach to food safety.
The source of the dioxin incident early in 2006 lay in Belgium. Two of the filters at the hydrochloric acid producer, Tessenderloo Chemie, stopped working last autumn. The first one was not replaced in time, causing a second one to fail. The result was that dioxin was nor removed from the hydrochloric acid.
The gelatine producer PB Gelatines uses hydrochloric acid as a technical additive. Firstly, the fat is removed from the bones by heating them. After that, PB Gelatines treats the largely degreased bones with hydrochloric acid. This dissolves bone sulphate and/or separates the gelatine. Surplus fat is also released at this stage and added to the fat extracted earlier. The dioxin from the contaminated hydrochloric acid accumulates in the surplus fat.
PB Gelatines then delivers the fat to Profat. This Belgium firm supplies raw materials for the production of animal feed. This was how dioxin got into animal feed by way of the contaminated fat and found its way to the Netherlands and Germany too. This feed was delivered to no fewer than 275 Dutch and about five German livestock farms, where a temporary embargo had to be imposed.
But the faulty filters were not the only problem. Since the dioxin crisis of 1999, Belgium has been testing all animal feed for dioxin. This is mandatory; the fat cannot be sold without a favourable test result. The test focuses on PCBs because the Belgian government considered these to be a good indicator of dioxin. This did not, however, hold true for the hydrochloric acid at Tessenderloo Chemie: the dioxin made it through the PCB test unnoticed.
After the dioxin incident was made public, further investigations revealed that Profat had not been implementing the risk assessment for animal fats far enough. The dangers posed by the use of hydrochloric acid were not included in their assessment. Neither was Profat performing any kind of analysis of dioxin, a shortcoming that even the certification institution failed to notice. And so certified fat was still able to cause a new dioxin incident.
GMP+ as an international standard
The Dutch food safety system for animal feed, GMP+, is an international standard for certification. The Dutch Board of Accreditation (RvA) announced this status to the Dutch Product Board Animal Feed in July last year. This now means that GMP+ can be compared with other standards, such as HACCP and ISO.
The GMP+ certificate is a sign that both the production process at the company and the product meet stringent quality requirements. The upgrading of GMP+ by the RvA signifies recognition of a worldwide system of prominence. The number of participants and the number of countries in which firms are based are growing every year. Approximately 7000 companies in about 50 countries in the animal feed chain hold a GMP+ certificate.
Since the beginning of 2006, the GMP+ system has been based on a three-way split in the requirements. The first relates to the conditions for participating. Besides this there are standards for quality conditions for the product and the production process. The third category of requirements relates to supervision and certification. When GMP+ was changed, it was also brought into line with new and existing legislation, Such as HACCP, the EU Regulations on Feed Hygiene and the General Food Law.
In the opinion of RvA, GMP+ scores extremely well on supervision, the strict assessment criteria and the consequences that result from shortcomings. If checks based on clear criteria reveal that businesses have made mistakes, the GMP+ certificate will be suspended, and the business will not be able to use its GMP+ certificate until the shortcoming has been remedied. This means a serious financial setback, since the business’ potential markets will be limited. Firms with GMP+ certificates may only buy raw materials from companies that likewise have a GMP+ certificate. Serious shortcomings can result in the business losing the certificate altogether.