Animal welfare

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Animal welfare

Animal welfare is one of our central themes and is closely linked to the so-called ‘license to operate’ of pig farms, transport and slaughter companies. Vion makes an active contribution to improving animal welfare in all parts of the chain in which Vion is active. This starts with compliance with legislation, guaranteeing well-being in the chain and offering premium concepts with improved standards.

In the development of national and European welfare legislation, the development of requirements within the national guides to good agricultural practice (farmyard quality system) and Vion’s own welfare procedures, the five freedoms set out in the Brambell report are taken into account. All animals:

  • Are free from hunger and thirst through easy access to fresh water and a diet to maintain complete health and vigor;
  • Are free from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable  door het bieden van een passende omgeving met inbegrip van onderdak en een comfortabele resting place;
  • Are free from pain, injury or disease, through prevention or prompt diagnosis and treatment;
  • Are free to express (most) normal behaviour by offering sufficient space, own facilities and farm of the animal’s own species
  • Are free from anxiety and stress by providing conditions and treatment that prevent psychological suffering
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Levels of animal welfare requirements

Within European meat production, animal welfare requirements can be divided into legal requirements (at European and national level) and market-driven improvements in animal welfare requirements, ranging from moderate to high-end niche concepts. The figure on the right shows the different levels of animal welfare requirements in Vion’s production chains.

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European and national legislation

European legislation on minimum standards for animal welfare

EU law provides a legal framework for minimum animal welfare requirements that applies to all European countries.

National legislation with improved welfare standards

National legislation provides a legal framework for minimum animal welfare requirements applicable to specific EU member states. In the Netherlands specifically, the standard for living space is higher than the European standard. In addition, Dutch pigs for meat production have at least 40% solid floor area.

Quality labels to guarantee animal welfare throughout the chain

In the Netherlands, the IKB quality mark (Integrated Chain Management) is used, in Germany the QS (Qualität & Sicherheit) quality mark. The regulations of these quality labels guarantee that the standards of animal welfare, animal health and food safety are met. Vion believes it is important that all animals raised according to certified standards have had a good life. For that reason, Vion is only affiliated with companies that are certified with the IKB or QS quality mark.

Farmers holding this certification are regularly independently audited to ensure compliance with regulations. In this way, compliance with basic animal welfare standards with our suppliers is ensured.

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Vion market concepts

In addition to European and national legislation and quality marks, Vion has developed several market concepts. 22% of all animals processed at Vion have been raised according to these certified higher animal welfare requirements (EU organic, Beter Leven, Für Mehr Tierschutz or Initiative Tierwohl).

Vion chains such as De Groene Weg and Good Farming Star are designed in such a way that animals grow up in accordance with (inter) national welfare standards. Each animal is given a lot of peace and space.

A number of facts:

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Good Farming Star

Good Farming Star

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Good Farming Star

Good Farming Star is a concept introduced in 2010 that pays extra attention to animal welfare and sustainability. Within this concept, Vion works together with some 165 Dutch Good Farming Star pig farmers. In Dutch supermarkets, the meat may bear one star of the Beter Leven quality mark. 17 percent of the animals processed by Vion in the Netherlands meet the Beter Leven Keurmerk 1 Star. The companies have an agreement with Vion in which the animal welfare requirements of the Good Farming Star concept are guaranteed. All links in the chain from the farm to the shop shelf are independently certified and audited. Vion actively coaches and supports pig farmers in this process.

The important criteria from the Beter Leven one Star program are: 

  • the pigs have more living space than in conventional pig farming; Fattening pigs have 25% more space, weaned piglets have 33% more space;
  • the animals have access to extra play material that creates a more attractive living environment for the animal;
  • extra attention is paid to animal health;
  • males are not castrated;
  • the transport time to the slaughterhouse is monitored and limited. The transport time for finishing pigs is a maximum of 8 hours. In practice, the maximum transport time is less than 6 hours. Transport time is defined as the time between the loading of the first animal and the unloading of the last animal.
  • the travel time of the pigs and piglets in the Beter Leven Keurmerk one star is a maximum of 3.5 hours. Travel time is defined as the time between the departure and the arrival of the transport.
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De Groene Weg

De Groene Weg

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De Groene Weg

De Groene Weg has been the market leader in organic beef and pork in the Netherlands since 1981. This brand is supplied to customers in Europe. From 2020 the organic beef and pork will be for sale in Germany under the name “Der Grüne Weg”. The products meet the European standards for organic products and the criteria for 3 stars of the Beter Leven quality mark. These high animal welfare requirements are guaranteed in contracts with suppliers.

The main differences with the criteria for 1 star of the Beter Leven quality mark are:

  • all pigs have a lot of space inside (1.3m2) and can go outside (1.0m2). A maximum of 75 percent of the outdoor area is covered;
  • the farrowing pen is at least 7.5m2 inside and 2.5m2 outside outside, the sows must also be free.
  • bearing sows have a space of at least 2.5 m2 inside and 1.9 m2 outside. The pregnant sows are obliged to go outside from April 1 to November 1.
  • at all stages of the pig’s life, the pens are covered with organic straw. 
  • the pigs are fed organic concentrates and organic roughage in all phases of life;
  • the pigs’ tails are not docked; 
  • the piglets are neutered in an anesthetic with pain relief;
  • the transport time to the slaughterhouse is limited to a maximum of 6 hours. The maximum transport distance is up to 60 km;
  • the weaning age of the piglets is at least 42 days;
  • motherless rearing of the piglets is not permitted.
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Continuous improvement of animal welfare

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Vion supports the chain in the process of continuous improvement of animal welfare

Control and transparency of animal welfare is an important point in Vion’s strategy to create trust in the products and the chain. Vion wants to take the lead in welfare discussions and fulfill its role in monitoring the welfare status in the chain. Our animal welfare strategy consists of different levels of animal welfare control. Our goals are:

  • Helping farmers in the continuous improvement of animal welfare
  • Provide transporters with information to evaluate and improve the animal transport process.
  • Provide customers, consumers and society with certainty with regard to the management of animal welfare in the chain. 
  • Create trust and have a professional reputation for animal welfare and transparency among all stakeholders. 

FarmingNet

With the FarmingNet program, Vion helps farmers in the process of continuous improvement of their stables and animal welfare. FarmingNet is an online information system for the pig farmer. The system gives the pig farmer direct insight into the weights and the muscle and fat thickness of the delivered animals. In addition, the pig farmer receives extra information, for example about the performance per department. This provides important knowledge about the health of the pigs and the balance. Moreover, it is possible to anonymously compare multiple locations or companies. Together with the Vion Farming employee, the intermediary, the veterinarian and / or the feed advisor, the pig farmer can use the data to improve the result. In many cases, the propagator is also involved in this improvement process.

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RundveeNet

Dairy farmers can also collaborate with Vion in the RundveeNet program. Via this programme, they have access to Vion’s slaughter data and, in consultation with their veterinarian, try to prevent possible abnormalities or disorders in their herd in the long term.

BigIdee

Last year, Vion launched the “BigIdee” concept. The aim of this concept is to improve the health and welfare of pigs. The first step of this concept is the exchange of information on health and vaccination status between pig farms and their receiving pig farms. Another aspect of “BigIdee” is the transport between the two farmers. Transporters have received additional training and information on how to monitor animal welfare and hygiene during transport (for example, the quality of the litter), as well as what kind of measures they can take to care for the health of pigs during and after transport and to eliminate the transmission of pathogens.

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How are our animals raised?

Producing safe and healthy food is one of Vion’s top priorities. Food safety and quality assurance are embedded in the codes of conduct at all Vion production locations. Vion opts for “pure nature” and in this area is committed to working responsibly with our customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

For this reason, Vion complies with the following rules in the animal welfare chain for all animals processed by Vion:

  • no animals are derived from cloned animals or subject to genetic engineering;
  • no growth aids are used. Since 2006, it has been prohibited in the EU to use antibiotics as a growth promoter in livestock. Compared to global pork production, the pig farmers who supply Vion are far ahead in reducing antibiotic use (source:  CSR Report 2019).
  • Transport times are kept to a minimum. Most of the transports are no more than 200 kilometers (source: CSR Report 2019).

In 2019, 38 percent of the total number of male pigs slaughtered at Vion was not neutered. Together with the “Boars on the way” program, Vion is investigating the possibilities of ending the castration of male pigs within the European Union.