In an attempt to increase transparency amid a recent backlash against slaughterhouses in Flanders, the non-profit Flemish information centre for agriculture and horticulture (VILT) was invited to tour a slaughterhouse with cameras and take notes.
Note: some of the photos taken are presented in this article as they appear on VILT's website, and may be upsetting to some readers.
The cattle slaughterhouse Adriaens in Zottegem (East Flanders) was taken over by Dutch-German company Vion Food Group at the beginning of 2021.
According to VILT, transparency is one of the new owner’s core values, which is why the centre was invited to a comprehensive tour of all aspects of the slaughter process.
VILT was founded as a non-profit organisation in 1996, and describes its mission as to “independently promote and stimulate better knowledge and understanding of Flemish agriculture and horticulture, in the broadest sense of the words,” through information sharing and communication.
The slaughterhouse Adriaens is described by VILT as “the most modern in Europe with a lot of attention for animal welfare, food safety, labour efficiency and sustainability.”
But its ownership hasn’t escaped scandal. While Adriaens began as a family enterprise, the shareholdership passed to Covavee and Agri Investment Fund, which is the investment vehicle of Boerenbond, the farmers' union.
In 2016, Boerenbond decided to sell all its holdings related to slaughter activity, and reached an agreement with Veviba, which already owned three slaughterhouses in Flanders and Wallonia.
Veviba’s group made headlines after undercover footage by a Belgian animal welfare organisation, Animal Rights, was taken in one of their slaughterhouses.
The footage 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.
It led to a sentencing for the slaughterhouse owner, along with a €12,000 fine, and prompted a public backlash against slaughterhouses that some farmers say has even translated to agri-bashing in general.
Supermarket chains decided to break contract with slaughterhouses in the Veviba group, of which Adriaens was now a member.
“We were dragged into this story involuntarily, because there has never been any malpractice at our slaughterhouse,” Pascal De Clerck, CEO of Adriaens, told VILT.
A lawsuit was brought against supermarket Delhaize, and Colruyt was condemned for unilaterally terminating their agreement with the entire group.
Even without bad press, Adriaens has had issues of its own. A heavy fire destroyed the facility in 2011, and it was two years before the slaughterhouse was completely rebuilt.
They began talks with Vion Food Group to change ownership from Veviba after it went bankrupt prior to the arrival of Covid-19, but then the coronavirus pandemic delayed the process, which was only finished in February of this year (prompting the name change to Vion-Adriaens).
“With the strengthening of beef operations in Belgium as its third home country, Vion will have a better spread of operations for their customers in Western Europe,” posits VILT.
“Vion now focuses on building strong relationships with farmers and customers in this important West European region for cattle. Their strategy focuses on the development of regional chains that distinguish themselves and connect producers and consumers in terms of quality and price.”
The sector isn’t expecting more foreign groups to make the move to Belgium, as Vion has.
“Belgium is a specific market, thanks to the Belgian blue-white breed,” Michael Gore, the director of the FEBEV slaughterhouses federation, told De Tijd, adding that the takeover is unique because “the sector consists almost exclusively of Belgian companies.”
A total rundown of operations at the Vion-Adriaens slaughterhouse, complete with photos, can be found on VILT’s website.