“The Meat King has his big appearance.” And I do my thing,” sings Clemens Tönnies, “no matter what the others laugh. It doesn’t matter what the weak maters advise you. I’m doing my thing.’ He swings his arms. It clappes, cheers and films a small society, people in suits above all.
The film is currently circulating on social media. Tönnies and his meat company are currently looking at the whole country. Since it became known that workers in the company had become infected with the coronavirus en masse, the debate about the working and living conditions of the contract workers in the meat industry has not abated any more. The lines of text from Udo Lindenberg’s “Mein Ding” seem to fit into the picture. They serve the image of the almighty and ignorant meat baron.
The situation of the workers in the slaughterhouses and dismantling plants has long been known. This has changed little, because many companies have continued to do their thing. Maybe it’s different this time. The pressure from politicians and the public is as great as it is rare. This was also recognized by Tönnies, who sees his company in an existential crisis – and has now announced changes in the system. From January 2021 at the latest, there will no longer be any work contracts in his company “in the core areas of meat production”.
They could be banned by law in any case next year. Until a few days ago, this was still lamented as the demise of the German meat industry. “Then we are no longer competitive,” the industry said. But the question is what that really means in the end, for businesses, consumers and also for animals.
Not much, says Matthias Brümmer, meat expert of the trade union Food Enjoyment Restaurants (NGG) and managing director of the NGG region Oldenburg/Ostfriesland. On the basis of figures from an unification procedure, he has drawn up a model invoice, which is available to Die Welt AM SONNTAG. Thus, the price of a kilogram of pork in an example farm where 60 employees slaughter and halve around 600 pigs per hour would rise by only 1.8 cents if the payment is increased from the current EUR 9.35 minimum wage to EUR 15 per hour. “If we add all the further steps such as coarse cutting, fine-cutting, packaging and shipping, it will end up being nine cents per kilogram,” says Brümmer, adding: “That is quite to be expected of the consumer.”
The professor considers the figures of the industry to be exaggerated
Manufacturers question these figures. It’s not just labor costs that are going up, they argue. The organisational burden for accommodation and administration would also be significantly increased. That, too, must then be passed on. It is true that the raw material itself is by far the largest cost block for meat. “But there is also a lot of intensive manual work in the process. There are no robots.” Industry representatives say the surcharge is around 20 percent.
The scientist Achim Spiller, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Göttingen, thinks this is clearly exaggerated. Especially in large slaughterhouses, the share of pure labour costs in the schnitzel final price is just over five percent. Slaughtering and cutting is a cent business. “Consumers will hardly notice this.” If companies take animal welfare seriously, it would be much more expensive. Something may be happening here, too.
On Friday, Federal Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) announced in Düsseldorf to representatives of politics, the meat industry, agriculture, trade and consumers: “We consider an animal welfare levy to be necessary.”
All that remains is to be secured under European law. According to the plans, there is a surcharge of 40 cents per kilogram of meat. The money will go to a fund to help farmers improve their farming conditions.
The levy should also apply to meat from abroad. Agricultural economist Spiller thinks this is an important point. “Countries such as Poland and Spain have recently gained significant market share.” They deliver meat in quantities that have been found on the shelves of discounters and supermarkets, industry experts say. After all, trade is even haggling over the kilo price for fourth place behind the comma.
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