The battle against ‘short-sighted and selfish financial gain’. Laws, rules, procedures: no matter how many of those you document, in the end, it all comes down to the practice. Companies can choose to ignore the rules. Or to follow the Law to the letter, but to refrain from acting in its spirit. After a number of incidents with contaminated feed, certification holder GMP+ International, more than ever, points the chain to the importance of integrity.
Integrity has been in the spotlights in the last couple of years. And not only in the feed industry. Since the financial crisis, the topic is expressly on the agenda of banks, central banks and regulators. Employees of financial institutions in the Netherlands are required to take an oath as of recently. In this oath, the promise to perform their job ‘in good conscience’ and to ‘put the interest of the customer central’.
Johan den Hartog, Managing Director at GMP+ International in Rijswijk (the Netherlands), sees similarities between the oath and the integrity document established by the certification holder in in 2014. “Of course, a statutory oath has a different weight. But both the oath for the bank sector and our integrity policy for the feed sector, have the same goal and both form a response to unethical, fraudulent or negligent actions.”
Immediate reason for the design of the GMP+ Integrity document, which was compiled in consultation with partners and the International Expert Committee, was het furazolidone incident in the Netherlands in 2014. The possible carcinogenic substance was mixed in feed and affected about ten companies. The incident caused quite the stir; political parties demanded clarification from the government, the guilty company was banned from the GMP+ certification scheme (the heaviest measure) and Den Hartog was questioned as an expert by the state secretary in The Hague The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) investigated the incident. In general, Den Hartog wants to say this about it: “You can be sure of one thing: it is always about money.”
The integrity document is based on international quality standards and clarifies what is expected of the parties involved (companies in the chain, Certification bodies and GMP+ International). Companies are responsible for compliance with the limits and standards of the certification scheme. Certification bodies must carry out their audits in an ‘honest and independent’ manner. And GMP+ International is expected to provide ‘relevant, coherent and feasible’ standards.
“You cannot legislate morality”, says Den Hartog. Because that is what integrity is: morals. “Integrity is not something you can apply in levels. You either work with integrity or you don’t. To the latter group we expressly make a moral appeal: don’t you want your partner, your children and your grandchildren to be able to consume healthy food? Why not think about that, instead of focusing on shortsighted and selfish financial gain. Don’t always choose the path of least resistance.” Plus, working with integrity will always get you the farthest. “It is also in the interest of the companies, both economically and socially: it provides continuity and it allows you to provide your employees with work.”
To assure integrity within the feed chain, GMP+ International has taken measures as a result of the integrity document. The supervision on Certification bodies has been intensified for instance. Whereas GMP+ International used to carry out random ‘parallel audits’ at companies – to verify the quality of the audits – they are now risk-based.
In this, the density of GMP+ certificates are considered among other things. The higher the density in a region, the safer the chain. In addition, extra audits are carried out at companies if there are doubts about the quality of the monitoring plan or HACCP protocol. “Companies know that we currently use a more structured method of compliance”, Den Hartog explains. This intensified supervision is proving fruitful. After incidents with Aflatoxin in 2013 and Furazolidone in 2014, no major incidents have occurred. “We aren’t ruling out anything, but we are counting our blessings.”
GMP+ International remains cautious however: “It is forbidden to run a red light, but everyone knows that there are drivers who do it nonetheless – simply to gain a couple of seconds. People are driven by fast gain, impulses and emotions.” Companies in the feed chain can be sure that failure to act with integrity will not be without consequences. GMP+ International and the Certification bodies involved know the companies that tend to cut corners when they can. Den Hartog: “They know this. They are aware of the fact that GMP+ International is looking over their shoulders.”
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