Hundreds of warnings and fines are imposed every year for violations in large slaughterhouses, according to statistics published by the Dutch food agency.
The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) figures on inspections show issues range from food safety to animal welfare and health.
In 2019, the NVWA issued 535 written warnings and 361 fines to large slaughterhouses with permanent supervision in the Netherlands. In 2020, the numbers rose to 577 warnings and 417 fines. Many of the violations were related to hygiene, which can impact food safety.
At sites with permanent supervision, an NVWA veterinarian is present during the slaughter process. They carry out official controls on food safety, animal welfare and animal health. They also do interventions by looking at business processes and adjusting if necessary. Whether a site has permanent supervision depends on factors such as the number of animals killed, the number of slaughter days per week and the slaughter speed.
After a first violation, a company receives a warning before a fine is imposed. A slaughterhouse can object to such a penalty and settlement of such cases can take some time.
Measures taken from March 2020 to combat COVID-19 saw little change on animal welfare controls with a veterinarian still present during slaughter, thanks in part to protective equipment. However, they did impact checks of food safety with fewer inspections in 2020 than 2019. Such checks include hygiene, animal by-products, microbiological standards and traceability.
Food safety findings
For food safety in the poultry sector in 2020, from more than 13,000 controls, about 550 violations were detected leading to almost 400 written warnings and nearly 200 fines, of which 50 were unsettled.
Poultry is defined as meat from chickens, broilers, ducks and pheasants. The 18 large poultry slaughterhouses account for 99 percent of slaughter in the Netherlands.
For food safety in the red meat sector in 2020, from more than 16,000 controls, 270 violations were found, almost 200 written warnings issued leading to 100 fines, of which 48 were unsettled.
Red meat rules cover pigs, cattle, calves, sheep, goats and horses. In 2019, the Netherlands had 22 red meat slaughterhouses with permanent supervision. In 2020, there were 20 companies that together accounted for 90 percent of slaughter in the country.
Lisette de Ruigh, director of inspections at NVWA, said it is important that meat is produced in a safe way with respect for animals.
“We are counting on the sector to make every effort to properly guarantee animal welfare, animal health and food safety. Our supervising veterinarians are in daily dialogue with the slaughterhouses. Where things go less well, our vets intervene by, for example, imposing a fine. Where necessary, the NVWA intervenes strongly by, for example, starting stricter supervision or temporarily halting the slaughter process,” de Ruigh said.
Meat can also be downgraded to animal by-product so that it can no longer be used for human consumption.
Laurens Hoedemaker, chairman of the Central Organization for the Meat Sector (COV), said the figures show the sector is mostly compliant and took issue with the “unnecessarily negative” presentation of the data with the focus on hundreds of fines and warnings each year.
“The image this presents is not representative. It seems as if the inspectorate wants to profile itself with this headline at the expense of a sector that is actually doing very well. Infringements are also reported, against which objection procedures are still pending. That is against the principle that you are innocent until proven otherwise. In practice, these provisional violations are often withdrawn or refuted. Publishing this creates an unjustified negative image,” Hoedemaker said.
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