Control and transparency of animal welfare is a key issue in our strategy to create trust in the products and supply chain. We want to take the lead in welfare discussions, and we take responsibility for our role in controlling the welfare status in the supply chain. Our animal welfare strategy consists of several levels of control with regards to animal welfare.
Our objectives are to:
- Assist farmers in the continuous process of making improvements in animal welfare.
- Provide hauliers with information and continuous education to evaluate and improve the transportation process of animals.
- Give assurance to customers, consumers and society with respect to the control of animal welfare in the supply chain.
We have animal welfare KPIs on the transportation, handling and stunning of animals, and monitor these on a daily basis. The effective stunning of all animals is obligatory before slaughtering can proceed. Our aim is to achieve effective stunning at the first attempt. With regard to the slaughtering process, our target for 2022 is for 99.9% of animals to require no restunning.
Transparency in the supply chain improves animal welfare. We are committed to gathering and sharing information on animal welfare aspects via digital systems with the rest of the supply chain.
Control and transparency of animal welfare is a key issue in our strategy to create trust in the products and supply chain
Animal-friendly husbandry policy
We cooperate with farmers, customers, and other stakeholders to stimulate and meet the increasing demand for more animal-friendly meat in the market. We are in favour of using quality labels with standards for animal welfare and we cooperate with stakeholders to develop these standards. Our Good Farming Star concept is based on the criteria of the Beter Leven Keurmerk 1-star label. More than 200 Dutch pig farms in our Good Farming Star supply chain are Beter Leven 1-star certified and around 100 other farms are also Beter Leven 1-star certified. De Groene Weg is market leader in organic meat in the Netherlands and second biggest player in Europe. In Germany, we are involved in working groups for increased animal welfare at farm level according the “Initiative Tierwohl” concept of German retailers.
We offer the market the choice of higher animal welfare standards in beef. We consider customers and consumers to be a very important driver in determining the development of animal welfare labels in the beef market and we are committed to developing this market segment.
Our overall target is to scale up animal welfare programmes, with at least 25% of sold value certified under a recognised animal welfare label by 2025 and 50% by 2030. We want to stimulate the production of organic meat by taking a leading position not only in the Netherlands, but also Germany and Belgium and to set up organic chains for both pork and beef in these countries.
Vion's antibiotics policy
We have banned antibiotics which are critical for humans in all pork supply chain programmes. We want to remain vigilant and are developing a monitoring system to ensure the absence of relevant antibiotic resistance genes in our products. To ensure that our suppliers work according to our policy, we have (in addition to the governmental monitoring programme) implemented our own monitoring programme on the residue of veterinary drugs in the Netherlands. With this risk-based programme, we can ensure that legal withdrawal periods are respected and that no substances are used which our standards do not permit.
The transportation of animals is critical with respect to animal welfare. We have strict guidelines to minimise the stress of animals and ensure animal welfare. There are two important aspects at play with regard to transport: the transport distance and the circumstances in which the animal is transported. We use our decentralised network of appropriately sized locations to have as short a transport distance as possible for all animals.
We take a broader responsibility with respect to the welfare of animals delivered to us. In addition to the live animal inspection by the official (external/independent) veterinarian, we conduct standardised checks at every unloading of the animals. Data concerning the condition of the animals received are published every quarter on our transparency website (www.vion-transparency.com).
Our policy during extreme temperatures
We acknowledge that animals can only be transported when weather conditions allow for a stress-free transport. During recent years, weather conditions have changed which have resulted in some days when temperatures have been too high to allow a stress-free transport. Since 2018, we are working according to a protocol to prevent heat stress during transport. This protocol takes effect when a temperature above 27°C is forecasted.
Animal welfare policy at slaughter
All animals within our care are always stunned before slaughtering. The stunning methods used at our plants comply with regulations, such as EU regulation 1099/2009. All animals are individually examined by trained staff between stunning and bleeding. With each sign (e.g. eye reflex) that could be related to sub-optimal stunning practices, an immediate re-stun of a carcass is mandatory.
We control animal welfare at all our slaughterhouses with measures that include:
- Having several of its own employees as animal welfare officers in all slaughterhouses. They are specifically qualified to assess the process and ensure the meeting of all animal welfare guidelines. All animal welfare officers receive regular animal welfare training.
- Training all employees who interact with live animals in animal welfare. Only trained staff are allowed to handle live animals.
- Monitoring the outcome of the Welfare Standard Operating Procedures and reporting on the KPIs.
- Monitoring the effectiveness of stunning and bleeding of all individual animals by trained Vion staff.
- Applying corrective and preventive actions in the case of non-compliance with internal standards. This is mandatory for each of our production sites.
- Consolidating and reporting animal welfare KPIs and additional relevant observations to the executive committee.
- Our expert veterinary team evaluates the performance of the individual farms and hauliers concerning animal welfare and animal health. This team also leads research and development projects to define and develop the next steps in animal welfare control.
When the competent authorities issue warnings or fines for a specific element in our process which needs improvement, we always publish those inspection results on our website.
News & Stories
Vion’s performance in the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare
The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) evaluates the world’s leading food producers, retailers and food service companies regarding their management and reporting of farm animal welfare. The report of March 2021 showed that Vion performed at Tier 3 of the Benchmark.
Extreme temperature protocol
We have updated the extreme temperature protocol for days with temperatures above 27 degrees Celsius with measures like:
- Loading density during transport is lowered by 10%.
- Trucks can park in the shade and next to wind turbines.
- The road underneath parked trucks are sprayed with water to reduce the temperature.
- The trucks’ schedule is organised so that they arrive just-in-time to reduce waiting time before unloading.
- There is a maximum transportation time of 8 hours for cattle and pigs.
At temperatures of 35°C and above, all transport of animals is halted. During 2020, this resulted in reduced slaughtering times where one shift per day was removed from the schedule during several days of hot weather.
African swine fever
Together with other stakeholders, parking places next to highways were identified as high-risk locations. A number of measures had already been taken, for example, the installation of boar-resistant trash cans, fences, and signs.
Continuous improvement of all procedures is in our DNA. This is also true of improvements in animal welfare. The following initiatives have been taken:
- We carried out an investigation to improve the design of the lairages and passageway to stunning.
- We participate in a scientific project to improve the stunning procedures of pigs with the Friedrich Loeffler Institute. The investigations are specifically on finding alternatives to CO2
- We used virtual ‘Cow glasses’ to train our employees and optimise the layout of our new lairage in Altenburg. The virtual ‘cow glasses’ software (C.O.M. Wetzlar) simulates what cows would see through their eyes.
- In collaboration with several universities and other scientific institutes, our workers are trained in handling animals in a friendly way. The training is based on the animal’s natural behaviour. All individuals who work with live animals receive this training. Going above legislative minimum requirements, we have implemented a continuous education programme to keep all individuals up to date with the scientific standards concerning animal welfare.
We publish all official observations by the government, such as warnings, fines and audit results, as well as third-party audits on its website. With this instrument of transparency, every stakeholder can check our performance on animal welfare, hygiene and product integrity.
We carried out an investigation to improve the design of the lairages and passageway to stunning
Tail length dilemma
Tail docking early in the life of the pig has a long history in pig husbandry as a measure to prevent tail biting. Tail biting can cause serious problems for the welfare of the pig and the quality of the meat. Preventing tail biting is therefore an important topic.
It is evident that the tail is not rudimentary – a pig’s tail has a clear physiological and social function. With a tail, the pig can tell whether it feels stressed or comfortable. Without a tail, the pig is missing a part of its communication palette. For several years, we have encouraged farmers to adjust the point of docking, so that pigs have a tail of sufficient length to communicate.
We do see that tail lengths clearly differ from farm to farm. To get farmers to abide by this measure, we need more objective information. To know exactly what the average tail length is of pigs at every farm, we need to measure all the tails. We have therefore developed a fully automatic measuring system. Using a so-called ‘vision’ system, we measure the tail length of each individual pig. Using the information of the individual pig, we can gain insight into the performance of the whole farm. We can then compare farms with each other and get them to learn from other farmers. We believe that by starting a conversation on tail size based on actual information, we can get specific farmers to alter their tail docking practices. By doing this, we contribute to achieving a higher standard of animal welfare.
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Clarification of the results
Our very strict rules relating to re-stunning will result in the re-stunning of carcasses that in fact are effectively stunned. Due to the biological and physiological mechanisms in animals, a certain percentage of stunned animals will show signs that could be interpreted as being related to consciousness despite effective stunning. The policy is that it is better to be sure than wrong.
This KPI therefore shows on one hand the effectiveness of the stunning and on the other hand the alertness of the workers on the line to act when needed. Therefore, the target for no restun needed will never be 100%.