Consumer advocates have spoken out against a boycott of meat from the Tonnies Group. They say the entire industry needs to change.
Many have been infected: workers at the Tonnies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbruck Photo: Martin Meissner/ap
Consumer protectionists, trade unionists and SPD politicians reject a boycott of the meat company Tonnies because of the Corona outbreak at the company. "At Westfleisch or Muller-Fleisch, hundreds of workers have also been infected," Matthias Wolfschmidt, strategy director of the consumer organization Foodwatch, told the taz on Monday. "The other corporations also work with contracts for work and labor and exploitation of humans and animals is unfortunately the rule rather than the exception," added Thomas Bernhard, head of department for the meat industry at the Food and Catering Union (NGG). Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) told ARD’s "Morgenmagazin": "There is something to be turned around and cleaned up in this industry overall."
Anton Hofreiter, co-chairman of the Green Party’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag, had spoken out over the weekend in favor of a boycott of Tonnies products after more than 1,300 employees tested positive for the coronavirus at the company’s main plant in Rheda-Wiedenbruck, Westphalia. The major supermarket chains "should remove Tonnies products from their range," Hofreiter told Bild am Sonntag. On Monday, in response to a taz inquiry, he no longer wanted to explicitly boycott Tonnies goods, but only in general terms "products that were created under such conditions."
"There is a distraction from serious political failures, be it in laws on temporary work, animal welfare or controls," explained consumer advocate Wolfschmidt. He said it is absurd that local authorities should have to monitor whether multibillion-dollar slaughter corporations are complying with health and animal welfare regulations. "The district administrator has an interest in business taxes from the companies. Closing them down for infection control violations creates a classic conflict of interest."
The federal cabinet announced back in May a ban on work contracts in slaughtering and cutting by Jan. 1, 2021. Up to now, according to trade unionists, up to 80 percent of employees in large slaughterhouses are employed by subcontractors who are commissioned via work contracts. In this way, the meat companies are relieving themselves of responsibility for payment below the minimum wage, lack of occupational health and safety, or accommodation in apartments that are too small. Most of the employees come from Romania, for example.
Pigs can stay on farms 14 days longer
Heil demanded to examine whether Tonnies has to bear the costs, for example, for the health treatment of the people. SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach warned against free travel of people from the region around the Tonnies slaughterhouse. "I am sure that significantly more people outside the workforce are now infected," Lauterbach told the Rheinische Post newspaper.
Until last Wednesday, Tonnies slaughtered about 20,000 animals a day in Rheda. "The fattened pigs will now remain with the farmers for the time being," Bernhard Schlindwein, deputy general manager of the Westphalian-Lippe Agricultural Association, told the taz. "Fourteen days is not a big problem for many farms," said Matthias Quaing, market consultant for the Interessengemeinschaft der Schweinehalter Deutschlands. Farmers are now trying to sell the animals elsewhere. However, Schlindwein expects the current comparatively high prices to fall. According to Quaing, killing the animals without processing their meat is not a "reasonable cause" under the Animal Welfare Act and is therefore prohibited.