La Route Du Lait
In 1997, the Sodiaal group undertook a major project aimed at guaranteeing the highest quality of milk to the clients and consumers of its products, from production to consumption.
La Route Du Lait is the first quality management initiative in the French dairy sector. It encompasses health guarantees, hygiene, animal welfare, respect for the environment, the professionalism of producers and the involvement of the services provided by the group's cooperatives.
Having increasingly extensively integrated issues linked to the environment and personal safety over time, La Route Du Lait now forms a solid basis for constructing the group's sustainable development approach.
The objective: to guarantee the origin of products and their production method
To meet consumers' expectations in food safety and respect for the environment and individuals, the milk producers and the teams at the cooperative's departments are making commitments.
La Route Du Lait, a system for managing operating quality from farm to factory, constitutes for all stakeholders a genuine initiative for progress and enables continuous improvement on a daily basis, in compliance with the requirements of clients and in particular consumers.
Certification: a requirement level certified by an independent organisation
Remaining true to their cooperative commitments, the milk producers have opted for transparency. What's more, every year since 2000, AFNOR Certification, an independent certification body, ensures that all of the commitments made are followed. This certification is now carried out based on the AFNOR NF V01 007 standard.
It forms part of a comprehensive quality approach, from the farm to the finished products, as its complements the ISO 9001 and/or ISO 22 000 certification (specific to foodstuff safety) implemented in the processing plants.
7 audit modules on farms and long-term support
More than 4,500 farm audits are carried out every year by the cooperative's technical teams to assess producers' practices and commitments.
Assessments are conducted on the application of regulation, compliance with the Farming Best Practices Charter and requirements specific to the cooperative.
- Module 1: identification
Food traceability begins with animal traceability: each cow is identified from birth and has its own passport, which accompanies it throughout its life.
- Module 2: healthy cows
Healthy cows are essential for producing high-quality milk! This is why the farmer's practices in monitoring the herd's health are assessed during the audit.
In the event of a problem, the farmer contacts his/her veterinarian and ensures careful use of any medicine prescribed. Treatment given to each cow is registered in a health booklet.
- Module 3: well-fed cows
The quality of the milk produced by the cows is of course connected to what they eat. The farmer ensures that his/her animals' nutritional needs are met. S/he also ensures the traceability of all food given to the animals.
- Module 4- impeccable quality milk
The bacteriological quality of the milk and its composition constitute the basis of milk payments to the producers. The regular provision of high-quality milk is assessed based on the results of analyses carried out by laboratories within the industry. In addition, the supply of milk in regular quantities throughout the year is a key economic stake for the cooperative.
Analyses are carried out on samples taken at all stages, from the producer's tank to the finished product.
To achieve these good results, the milking, which usually takes place twice per day, must be carried out under optimal hygiene, comfort and safety conditions, both for the animals and the milker.
An approved annual check assesses the correct functioning of the milking machine.
After each use, all of the milking equipment is thoroughly cleaned using suitable cleaning products.
Properly designed, well lit, facilitating the access and safety of the cows and the milker, and easy to clean, the premises are given special attention right from the design phase.
After milking, the milk is stored at below 4°C in a regularly maintained milk tank. The layout of the dairy, its cleanliness and its maintenance conditions are assessed.
- Module 5 - Well-being and safety
Nothing can replace the farmer's eye. He or she knows his/her cows and their habits and constantly ensures that they are well housed and in good health.
The audit ensures that the buildings and practices are suitable.
Special attention is paid to the rearing of calves and heifers, which represent the future of dairy farming.
The safety of all individuals who live, work or visit the farms is also a central component of the audit. The surroundings of and access to the dairy must allow the milk to be collected under the best possible conditions, regardless of the weather. The farmers are also encouraged to develop preventive measures to reduce the risk of accidents as much as possible.
- Module 6- Respect for the environment
Respect for the environment is one of the producers' commitments. This begins with the farm's integration into the landscape. The upkeep of and improvements to the farm's surroundings are also taken into account.
Preservation of the water and soil is ensured through appropriate management of livestock effluent. Waste treatment is now a key issue assessed during the audit.
The farmers are also encouraged to better identify and reduce their consumption of water and energy and to implement practices that improve their farm's carbon footprint.
- Module 7- Sustainable farms
The farmers are also encouraged to prepare for the future, take training and maintain close ties with their cooperative. By taking active steps, they can adapt to tomorrow's world.
Although the audit constitutes a good snapshot at a given moment, a particular emphasis is placed on improvement and prevention actions. At the end of each audit, an action plan is jointly defined by the farmer and his/her dairy consultant. A focus is placed as much on the quality of the milk as on the health of the animals, safety and the environment.
The dairy consultant ultimately performs the role of project manager in the field. S/he directs the producers at any given moment towards the best advice or the best service available regarding technical or economic subjects and ensures that the commitments made by the farmer are met.
Progress in 3 steps
Every three years, an audit is conducted in each farm. At the end of the audit, a “plan of action” written by both the breeder and his advisor will make it possible to fulfill the producer’s commitment to go from step 1 to step 3.
- Stage 1: This is the foundation. Its corresponds to a national initiative, the Farming Best Practices Charter, which is recognised by the entire dairy industry as a benchmark in bovine farming best practices.
- Stage 2: This is Sodiaal's contribution, helping the producers to remain one step ahead and offering clients differentiated products.
- Stage 3: This involves preparing for the future. It raises the farmers' awareness of topics that will be important tomorrow (computerisation, energy savings, etc.).