‘It is about intrinsic motivation’. Across the globe, over sixteen thousand companies in the feed chain are GMP+ Feed Safety Assurance (FSA) certified – more than ever before. Still, a certificate alone is no guarantee. The corporate culture is just as important. A conversation with two experts from the sector about the importance of feed safety culture. “It makes you generate a lot of goodwill in the market.”
Johan den Hartog, Managing Director at GMP+ International and Reinder Sijtsma, Quality Director at Nutreco, still frequently see the attitude at the companies they visit. An attitude that can be summarized as: we have a certificate, so we have no problems. That is also the message that is being used in their marketing: ‘We are certified.’ And with that: safe, responsible and professional.
‘If only that were true,’ Sijtsma says. Don’t get him wrong: the quality director of the Dutch feed and meat producer will be the first to applaud companies who have obtained a GMP+ certificate or working on getting one. “But that’s not enough. Feed safety must be in the DNA of your company and employees.”
Johan den Hartog van GMP+ International agrees. He likes to quote the American feed safety expert Frank Yiannas: “Feed safety should not be a priority, it should be a core value.” At the headquarters of GMP+ International in Rijswijk, Den Hartog explains what Yiannas means by that: “A priority can be high or low, depending on the circumstances, but a core value is always leading for a company.”
Feed safety culture is about the translation of the theory (the rules) into daily actions in practice. It is a mentality. Because in the end, a certificate, as valuable as it may be, remains the result of a snapshot. A certificate is a promise, it creates expectations. Feed Safety culture goes beyond checking off rules and requirements. Sijtsma: “During a visit to certified companies and suppliers, the culture tells me quickly whether it is important to work with that party.”
The world is changing, he emphasizes. “Legislation, the demands from the market and society, the way supply chains operate. Openness, trust and traceability play an increasingly important role. Having a certificate used to be enough to sell. That time is over.”
In the report Food Trust – Giving Customers Confidence in Your Food PricewaterhouseCoopers writes that promoting trust in food is increasingly important ‘in a climate in which the trust in food producers, processes and sellers has suffered damage after various prominent scandals’, such as in 2013, when it turned out that horse meat had been used in beef.
Nevertheless, the urgency of a culture change has not yet been noticed by all companies, not even by certified ones. They don’t see the advantages of extra steps in the field of quality and safety, because they cost time, energy and money and allegedly have little return. “Incorrect”, says Den Hartog. “Those who are consequent in preserving a culture of feed safety, gain the trust of the market in time.”
“It generates a lot of goodwill”, Sijtsma confirms. “Leadership attracts customers.”
The management must take the lead in that, Den Hartog and Sijtsma believe. When the management conveys that safety is not just a certificate on the wall, but also an attitude in the daily practice, the staff will follow suit. Sijtsma: “In the end, you rely on the people on the work floor. They know how everything works, they also know where there is room for improvement. Employees must be encouraged to have a proactive mindset.”
A culture change requires a serious investment of the management. “Employees are usually willing, but must be motivated and facilitated. You can invest in equipment and training. As soon as the people see that their boss firmly believes in it, they will start getting excited as well. And they will start providing solutions more often.”
“And don’t be afraid to be honest”, Den Hartog adds. “If something goes wrong, be open about that. Share it, within your company or within the sector. We can all learn from it and prevent repetition.”
Feed safety culture is the awareness that every link in the chain, up to the individual employee, contributes to the end result: global feed safety. “We are making a moral appeal here”, says Den Hartog. “Culture is not measurable. It is about intrinsic motivation.”
And if that exists, you are more than welcome to make an impression with it. “Our certificate is no marketing tool, it is a risk management tool. Acknowledge that first, act accordingly, and you can easily use that in your marketing. But not vice versa.”
Sijtsma speaks highly of the role that GMP+ International has been playing in the sector for 25 years. “GMP+ International was the very first party that tried to realize a culture change in companies. They are successful in that. In practice, the scheme often works as an eye opener for companies. Managers obtain insight, and then they move forward.”
With remarkable results. Den Hartog recalls one of the first companies that received a GMP+ FSA certificate. “Later, a manager told me that it really wasn’t easy during that first period, introducing the quality system. The supervisors lost focus. But what happened? The people on the work floor addressed it. They had grown aware of their contribution to feed safety, that their actions determine what product leaves the company every single day.”
Den Hartog, with a smile: “Then you just know that feed safety is in the DNA of your company. That has feed safety culture written all over it.”
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