The claim that the Dutch produce the safest veal in the world may well have originated with Marijke Everts, director of corporate affairs for the VanDrie Group. She paints the brightest picture of European veal, and the VanDrie Group alone represents about 30 percent of European veal production.

Jan van Drie Sr. purchased his first calf in 1963, and the Dutch family business has since grown to include 25 subsidiaries in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy and Germany.

Everts is mesmerizing to listen to in part because of her Dutch pronunciation of “calf” with a hard “K.” The VanDrie Group, like its logo, is centered around the calf. It exports veal to more than 60 countries with annual sales of more than $ 2 billion.

The world’s largest single veal producer is the VanDrie Group’s Ekro facility in Apeldoorn Zuid on Laan van Malkenschoten. Apeldoorn is a municipality of about 160,000 located about one hour by train from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

Ekro, an Apeldoorn veal producer since 1952, became part of the VanDrie Group in 1994. Ekro’s new modern slaughter and deboning facility opened in 2001. Canadian and American journalists who toured the production facility found it so well maintained that they guessed it might only be two or three years old.

Like all VanDrie Group slaughterhouses, each cut leaving the Ekro facility includes a label with an identification number for the individual animal for 100 percent traceback.

The VanDrie Group likes to deliver “clean and calm” calves to the slaughterhouse. Clean helps reduce the spread of pathogens. Calm just makes for a more smooth transition.

Parked behind the Ekro facility are VanDrie “comfort class” trucks with heavy suspension. The veal calves, now weighing around 500 pounds and looking like adults, are transported in lighted, temperature-controlled vehicles that are fully enclosed with drinking water available. Cameras monitor the load.

VanDrie controls more than 1,600 “calf-husbandry” operations. About 1,100 veal farmers contract with VanDrie to raise the calves. Calves are raised in roomy stables with good ventilation and lightning. They are feed both milk and grains, and the farmers that care for them are constantly monitoring each animal.

The European Union’s Veal Calf Quality Foundation (SKV) is responsible for inspecting veal farms for prohibited substances. VanDrie’s food safety objectives include having no recalls and increasing its research and technology development.

VanDrie also permits the use of only certified feed ingredients, only works with farmers that are certified members of the Fit Calf quality system, and bans the delivery of calves to slaughterhouses during the withdrawal period for medicines.

SKU inspections are required, and deliveries to slaughterhouse can only include only calves with clean skins,

Veal is a delicacy protein long embraced by several European counties.

The EU is working with the industry to increase exports to the United States, Canada, and China. That’s where their slogan, “Trusted veal from Europe,” comes in.

The trust part starts with those bright yellow RFID tags. The calves get their pair of yellow tags shortly after birth. RFID traceability remains with the animal from “Farm to Fork. If there is ever any food safety risk to consumers, European veal producers can reach out to the exact current location of the product and recall the specific box containing it.

Dutch veal operates under the European Union’s food safety policies. In addition to that of the Netherlands. France, Italy, Belgium and Germany are also veal producers. Italy, France, and Germany are the cuisine and cultural centers for veal and account for 74 percent of Europe’s consumption.

As a total percentage of bovine slaughter, veal runs from 17 percent in Italy, 27 percent in France to 65 percent in the Netherlands.

Across the continent, the “trusted veal from Europe” campaign explains how it enforces its traceability system.

“This is achieved through the compulsory individual labeling of the cattle — every animal must have a tag on each ear, making it possible to identify them throughout the production process by indicating their places of birth, feeding, and harvesting,” according to the EU.   “They must also have a passport that accompanies them through each stage of the production chain.  In addition, every farmer keeps an up-to-date record detailing their cattle’s movements.  For up to three years after the events, this record must remain available for presentation to relevant authorities at any time.”

Each European country must also maintain its own database containing comprehensive information about its national production, which constitutes a common framework for statistics on the European bovine production industry.  European identification and registration systems are strict measures for following each animal’s movement through the food chain.  And the EU believes the system will “ultimately eradicate diseases.”

European veal operates within this  “one step backward, one step forward” approach for keeping its hands-on supplier and wholesalers so it can always identify the locations of its products and animals.

Dutch veal also is built on the European identification and registration system, which the EU claims is unique in the world. “The system’s strict measures let us follow each animals’ movements throughout the food chain and ultimately eradicate diseases,” according to officials.

Editor’s Note: Food Safety News Editor Dan Flynn visited the Netherlands as a guest of the Dutch Meat Industry Association and the European Union’s Trusted Veal from Europe campaign. It promotes European veal as a high-quality, safe alternative to other meats.

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