Despite the growing appeal for meat-free diets in Belgium, slaughterhouses have been producing record quantities of meat this year in order to meet domestic and international demand.
25,680,912 animals were killed in Belgian slaughterhouses in April, including over 24 million chickens, according to provisional data from Belstat, the Belgian statistics agency.
In addition, 62,783 bovine animals, as well as 839,260 pigs were slaughtered last month.
Last year, 1.39 billion kilograms of animal carcasses were produced in Belgium, the highest recorded levels in the country since 2015. Slaughter statistics illustrate the changing tastes of consumers, as well as agricultural difficulties in rearing different types of livestock.
Since 2019, the total slaughter weight of cattle has reduced by 6% as part of a larger trend of reduced cattle slaughter within the country.
Similarly, horse meat, which is viewed as taboo in other parts of the world, has particularly fallen out of favour. Slaughter weights have dropped by 71% since 2019.
Belgium’s love for chicken, as evidenced by the increasing number of fast-food chicken shops across the country, has only grown over recent years. The total weight of chicken carcass processed in Belgium has increased by around 1% each year since 2016.
Flanders leads the country in animal slaughter, where around 91% of all meat was processed last year, according to official statistics.
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According to the Belgian Meat Office, the Belgian meat industry is one of the most regulated in the world and ranks highly in terms of animal welfare. By law, slaughterhouses must include the presence of a qualified veterinarian who is employed directly by the state.
Despite this, there have been a series of high-profile scandals relating to animal cruelty abuses committed in Belgian slaughterhouses.
In January, an East Flemish slaughterhouse was shut down due to reports that animals were beaten badly, routinely subjected to shocks with electrical prods, and suffered poor standards of slaughter.
The year before, a Belgian slaughterhouse and its 76-year-old manager were sentenced by criminal court to pay a fine of 12,000 due to abuses brought forward by animal welfare organisation Animal Rights.