30 years ago, the Dutch feed sector changed course. Following a number of incidents involving contaminated feed, the sector agreed on Good Manufacturing Practices, which would later grow to become the GMP+ Feed Certification scheme. It didn't all go without a hitch, but GMP+ International always kept looking forwards.
The mood was not very positive in the early ’90s when the Dutch feed sector was shaken by feed contamination for the umpteenth time. More negative headlines, once again being the subject of public debate, once again having to pull out all the stops in order to limit the damage to exports of animal products and the health of animals and humans. But what was lacking in terms of positivity in those days was made up for by determination and action: we had to change course.
That was easier said than done, recalls Johan den Hartog, who had a seat at the conference table on behalf of the Feed Product Board and went on to become Managing Director of GMP+ International.
“In the 1980s, there were various problems with salmonella, heavy metals and carry-over of anti-coccidiostats in feed products. There were reservations about tackling these issues in a structured way. Rules were seen as restricting the freedom to choose raw materials. There was a lack of knowledge about who a company’s customers were in the subsequent links in the chain. There were also doubts about whether customers would want to pay for stricter requirements. This was all linked to a way of thinking and awareness that the feed sector is part of the food chain."
Pressure from outside, including from the Dutch animal production sectors and the government, ultimately did lead to support for a more structured approach. Back then it was exclusively about the exporting dairy, meat and egg sectors in the Netherlands.
The result was a code for ‘Good Manufacturing Practice’ agreed in 1992, a series of measures designed to guarantee a safe production process. ‘GMP’ was born. At that time, there was nothing like the thorough feed safety management system we know today in the shape of GMP+, let alone international involvement. GMP was a strictly local – Dutch – matter, although it wasn't long before interest was noted from over the border in Germany.
That changed in the late ’90s. Even after the advent of GMP, the sector was hit several times by incidents like mad cow disease (BSE) and dioxin and heavy metals in feed. In part, these issues were also the result of more refined analysis methods, increased quality awareness, a more critical animal production sector and a nervous Dutch government that did not yet have a statutory framework for measures. Despite the fact that GMP incorporated the first ISO 9001 requirements as early as 1995, GMP was still too reactive.
The incidents would have major consequences for the scope of GMP. The most important lesson was that the source of a contamination generally lies at the start of the feed chain, explains Den Hartog. In 1999, the representatives of the Dutch feed sector therefore took the most important decisions in the history of the scheme: “We decided to bring the entire feed raw materials chain within the scope of the scheme. This chain approach led to growing international participation."
In order to make GMP more proactive, HACCP was made an integral part of the system. Traceability, recalls and an Early Warning System were also added to the scheme in order to limit damage if a contamination did occur. As a result of these additions, GMP acquired the now familiar ‘+’ after its name; it had grown to become much more than just a set of guidelines. It had become a ‘brand’ that stands for safe feed.
Although both the content and scope of the scheme in the early years were incomparable with today's worldwide, chain-wide, ISO and HACCP-based scheme, in those years the foundations were laid for a key value that GMP+ International continues to passionately advocate to this day: together. The first Good Manufacturing Practices were the result of businesses looking beyond their own interests and joining forces for a shared goal.
GMP+ Feed Certification scheme: the benefits
“Working together has always been part of our DNA”, reflects Roland van der Post, who has been Managing Director of GMP+ International since August 2021. “We are a scheme of, for and by the sector. Companies still have an important voice in shaping the scheme. That is the only way to keep it relevant and workable in a continuously changing environment. In spite of all the changes of the past thirty years, collaboration has been the big constant during all that time. If we work together, we can achieve great things. The sector has proved that many times."
Now in 2022, the GMP+ Feed Certification has over 19,000 participants in nearly 90 countries around the world. The centre of gravity remains in Europe, but over the past ten years there has been a great increase in participation in emerging regions such as Eastern Europe, Asia and North and South America. In nearly all the countries in which GMP+ International is active, there are collaborations and partnerships with industry bodies, consultants and training institutes on the ground. They know the local market better than anyone else and act as the connecting link between GMP+ International and the feed companies. And of course the certification bodies also play a crucial role in reaching and facilitating the companies.
“Cefetra was one of the first supply & trade companies to obtain GMP+ certification and with that a frontrunner in the market. Thirty years of GMP+ is great, but it is not about creating memories – quite the opposite. I believe a quality system should support a company’s operations. It should set the framework and ensure feed safety without being a paper tiger and frustrating a company’s activities. The fact that we as Cefetra have no great memories of GMP+ is a good thing: it proves to me that it works as it should.”
Audrey Rensen-van Lijden, Head of Quality and EHS, Cefetra Group
With over 19,000 participants throughout the production chain, GMP+ International is the biggest feed safety scheme in the world. But those figures would mean nothing if they did not lead to results. GMP+ International’s goal has never been to become the biggest. GMP+ International is a not-for-profit organisation and its mission is based on a vision: Feed Safety Worldwide, a task of unprecedented scale.
Nevertheless, GMP+ International’s growth proves that we are getting somewhere. Leading companies increasingly expect suppliers and service providers to conform to the scheme. As a result, an ever larger part of the international feed chain is certified. This includes not only production companies but also businesses involved in collection, trade, storage, transhipment and transport. This chain approach, in which companies only do business with other companies that also have GMP+ (or equivalent) certification, is resulting in a chain that is becoming ever more robust.
Although incidents can never be completely ruled out, the sector has been spared major incidents for the past 15 years. Partly thanks to the incorporation of HACCP into the scheme, feed companies are working more proactively than ever before. And if contaminations do take place, thanks to the Early Warning System they are quickly detected and nipped in the bud.
However, past performance offers no guarantees for the future. Which is why GMP+ International is investing heavily in knowledge sharing. The idea is that if you understand why certain precautions are necessary, you are more likely to take them seriously and comply with them. Via the brand-new GMP+ Academy we, together with GMP+ International and our affiliated partners, provide professional training materials for feed companies worldwide. This online platform, which is accessible to all, makes it easy for businesses to improve knowledge and awareness in the workplace.
GMP+ International also continues to proactively engage in dialogue with the sector in order to make sure the scheme remains appropriate, workable and future-proof. As part of this effort, GMP+ International organised the Global Feed Safety Summit, held in the spring of 2022. Over the course of three days in Berlin, feed experts from all over the world discussed the major challenges for the future, such as climate change, sustainability and food security. The conference was a success. John Kirkpatrick, Agricultural Manager at TESCO, describes it as “one of the most far-sighted conferences I have ever attended”.
The management of GMP+ International also left Berlin with many new insights and ideas – and, more importantly, a concrete agenda for the future. For instance, we are working with the Global Feed LCA Institute to explore how sustainability claims can be verified. GMP+ International will also be looking into whether elements of feed safety can benefit from blockchain technology, in partnership with the Covantis data platform. And in the area of antimicrobial resistance, GMP+ International plans to extend the scheme standards to vulnerable regions.
“We are enormously proud of what we have achieved as a sector over the past 30 years”, says Van der Post. “What started out as pioneering work has grown into a true feed safety culture. There is no longer any need to convince anyone of the importance of a safe feed chain. However, we do always need to remain alert and be open to new developments and innovations. The initiatives prompted by the Global Feed Safety Summit offer hope for the future.”
In this way, GMP+ International, together with the sector, continues to work towards Feed Safety Worldwide. Because despite all the progress we have made, feed safety will always remain a ‘work in progress’.