“Katrin Göring-Eckardt calls for a radical restructuring of meat production in Germany.” The big slaughterhouses must be closed,” suggests the leader of the Greens. Instead, the business should be decentralized and every animal should be slaughtered near the rearing.
This is an idea that is likely to be accepted by a number of consumers, especially after the Corona outbreaks in almost every major slaughterhouse and dismantling plant and the subsequent discussion about the working and living conditions of the employees there.
In addition, according to surveys, consumers are once again placing more emphasis on the origin of meat. And regionality is one of the most important criteria. But how realistic is the Green politician’s proposal?
Regional systems still exist in the meat industry. “However, in view of the structural change over the past 40 years, they have been pushed back very much,” says Martin Fuchs, the chief executive of the German Butchers’ Association. This is so strong that a return to exclusively regional slaughter is only possible in a long-term process, as Fuchs explains in Die Welt.
“A change over the Hauruck process from one day to the next will not work. In Germany, around one million pigs are now slaughtered every week. This is not feasible at the moment outside the big slaughterhouses.”
The current slaughterhouse ranking of the German Pig Farmers Association (ISN) supports this thesis. After all, the ten largest companies in Germany have an aggregate market share of just over 80 percent. Tönnies is by far the frontrunner, followed by other major corporations such as Westfleisch, Vion and Danish Crown.
Behind this quartet is the middle class with companies such as the Müller Group from Birkenfeld near Pforzheim in Baden-Württemberg, Böseler Goldschmaus from Garrel in Lower Saxony or Simon-Fleisch from Wittlich in the Eifel and Manten from Geldern on the Lower Rhine. These companies, with figures of one to two million pigs slaughtered each year, are still comparatively large suppliers.
But behind this it quickly becomes very small-scale – and in practically all regions, as experts say. In recent years, hundreds of farms have either completely abandoned or at least outsourced slaughter due to ever new requirements.
Example craftsmanship: Only about 30 percent of butchers in Germany still slaughter themselves, according to the Fleischer-Verband, the advocacy group of currently more than 11,000 butchers in Germany. The rest must see how it gets to regional meat. “Forty years ago, this proportion was certainly twice as high,” reports association chief Fuchs.
“The problem is more and more and more and more requirements and the bureaucracy and documentation obligations.” And that these rules of policy and administration are primarily tailored to industry. “We don’t want any benefits.”
All standards should and must be adhered to by everyone, whether it is hygiene, product safety, quality or animal welfare,” says Fuchs. “For small businesses, however, we need solutions that are pragmatic.” But that is not the way to do it.
There is, for example, the ban on one-room space. “In the past, butchers slaughtered early in the morning, then cleaned and disinfected the room, and then finished meat and sausages in the same room for sale at the counter,” says Fuchs. That is no longer possible today.
The official doctor comes to small companies
“Slaughtering and processing must necessarily take place in two different rooms. However, this is not possible in many companies in terms of construction. So many have given up their own slaughter.” Or example training. Those who slaughter must be knowledgeable, the law states.
However, the corresponding obligation to provide proof does not only apply to auxiliary workers in the large slaughterhouses. “Even seasoned butcher masters with 20 years of professional experience have to go back to school,” says association representative Fuchs. The provision is, in principle, correct. “But for the craft, it is often simply silly.” Just like a working time recording in a micro-company with less than 15 employees.
The documentation effort is also heavy, according to the industry. Individual company reports n of the fact that self-checks and the completion of control sheets and process documentation bind at least one full-time worker, even in small establishments. And when it comes to vets, the little ones have a harder time than the big ones.
It is stipulated that each individual animal must be inspected by a veterinarian before and after slaughter. The large slaughterhouses can afford their own employed vets. In contrast, the official doctor comes to the small enterprises.
And that costs. There is talk of EUR 14.50 per pig in some farms. In the case of the large butcher, on the other hand, the costs are less than one euro. “The butcher has to earn this again,” says expert Fuchs.
Politicians have actually recognised the high burden of bureaucracy and constraints. This, at least, is suggested by the 17-page paper “Small and Micro-Agricultural Holdings: Cutting Red Tape and Slaughtering Pigs” of the Bundestag’s Scientific Service from 2018.
“The problem is not the individual regulations, but their sum,” it says. For this reason, it is necessary to identify and eliminate individual particularly burdensome requirements and at the same time reduce bureaucratic obligations.
So far, however, the memorandum of understanding has remained, the industry reports – and is now pushing for change. After all, the timing seems favorable. “If you no longer want the high concentration in slaughter, you have to change regulations and cut red tape.
Otherwise, one should not be surprised and complained about certain structures,” says Fleischer representative Fuchs, who also sees other problems facing the industry: lack of young talent. “It is becoming more and more difficult to find trainees.” Or successors for the companies.