Belgian slaughterhouse sentenced for violating animal welfare standards

A Belgian slaughterhouse and its 76-year-old manager were sentenced by a criminal court to pay a fine totaling €12,000 in a verdict reached years after the trial first began back in 2017.

The sentence is for violating animal welfare standards, an accusation brought by the animal rights organisation Animal Rights.

Hidden camera footage released by Animal Rights years ago showed animals being beaten and tasered back into their enclosures, and cattle being hung and slaughtered in front of live animals. Animals were routinely not fully anaesthetised before being killed.

The footage was ultimately thrown out by the court, and the fine leveled against the slaughterhouse and its operator is much less than the €28,000 the prosecution sought. The sentence is a partial acquittal.

Normally such violations are punished with a simple fine and no legal action, but Animal Rights said the abuse was recurring and so systemic that it warranted addressing in the criminal court system.

They also added a series of food-safety offences flagged by the Federal Agency for Food Chain Safety (AFSCA) in their complaint.

The slaughterhouse is located in the Flemish town of Izegem.

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In Belgium, all slaughterhouses have veterinarians paid by the government who must report abuse, but De Standaard found issues with that process.

“We don’t know whether it makes sense to report animal welfare problems,” one of those veterinarians told the Dutch-language paper anonymously. “Our main task is to monitor food safety for AFSCA. We also have to fill in checklists for Animal Welfare. But when we report something, we have no idea what is happening with the complaints and whether they will be followed up.”

The source said that because veterinarians don’t ever hear back regarding the violations they file, they assume nothing is being done and are therefore not motivated to keep reporting animal abuses.

Other veterinarians worry about physical and verbal aggression from slaughterhouse staff or owners should they file complaints. The secretary of their professional association said that anyone who pointed out too many problems would be transferred or not given any more assignments, something that the AFSCA has always denied.

Last year, Flemish minister for animal welfare Ben Weyts announced new inspections for slaughterhouses, whose only interest would be animal welfare. A team of 25 veterinary inspectors would make visits to the region’s 70 slaughterhouses, each visit for a minimum of three hours, in what Weyts called “one of the most comprehensive control systems in Europe.”

But the Federation of Belgian Meat said the new controls were nothing more than window-dressing, unless new legislation was also added to back up the inspectors.

Helen Lyons

The Brussels Times

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