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18 March 2022

How do Belgian slaughterhouses safeguard animal welfare?

Animal welfare in Belgian slaughterhouses is continuously monitored. Bert Driesen, researcher at Leuven University, helps slaughterhouses with his expertise and knowledge to optimise animal welfare. “Animal welfare is not a static issue,” he says. “It evolves over time. We are always raising the bar.”

It evolves over time. We are always raising the bar.

Animal Welfare Officer

To ensure this, every Belgian slaughterhouse has employed a number of Animal Welfare Officers since 2013. “We are responsible for everything related to animal welfare at a slaughterhouse, such as writing procedures and work instructions about the legal requirements and the requirements of specifications. Checking that those procedures and instructions are followed is also our responsibility,” says Tine Delhaye, Animal Welfare Officer at the Belgian Pork Group. She points out that special training is required to become an Animal Welfare Officer. In addition, there is a mandatory refresher course every five years.

Besides the internal Animal Welfare Officers, there are also external animal welfare inspections in the Belgian slaughterhouses. For example, an inspector from the Federal Food Agency is constantly present. In addition, in each slaughterhouse a veterinarian supervises animal welfare for at least three hours a day on behalf of the Flemish government.

Good housing

In addition to continuous welfare checks, every effort is made to ensure that pigs arriving at the slaughterhouse are properly housed. This starts with arrival at the slaughterhouse, where unloading ramps are provided that vary in height to make it easier for the pigs to get off the lorry. Then the animals are divided into small groups and put in the stalls. There they have plenty of fresh drinking water, play materials and the floor is made of a special material that makes it feel warmer.

The entire slaughter process is continuously filmed in the Belgian slaughterhouses. These recordings are randomly checked by the different Animal Welfare Officers of a slaughterhouse. Thus, every Animal Welfare Officer is obliged to watch at least two hours of that footage every week. “If we see an anomaly or violation, we can immediately contact the person responsible to take action,” says Tine Delhaye.

Continuous improvement process

Are there any points where it could be even better? The answer is an unambiguous yes, agrees Bert Driesen. “That is the nature of animal welfare research. It evolves over time. Over the decades we started looking at things differently.” Specifically for slaughterhouses, Driesen is thinking of even more animal-friendly stunning techniques. “Developing new stunning techniques or improving the controls on stunning techniques are certainly steps in the right direction. Real-time monitoring and other modern technologies provide more data and that helps us to improve things,” concludes the KU Leuven animal welfare expert.

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