Today we visited the new cattle slaughterhouse in Leeuwarden from the company Vion. The plant had received consultation before building it on animal-behaviour and the latest design tips and equipment available to lairage, herd, restrain and slaughter cattle.
After all the horrors we have seen at cattle plants in Ghana and Turkey and some in Europe, we were relieved to see how seriously this plant had taken animal-welfare into their plans. It remains a slaughterhouse, a place where animals are killed, but had taken into account keeping the environment calm and limiting stressors causing fear as much as possible. The man in charge of the lairage was very smooth and quiet when moving the animals. People are not allowed to hang around in the lairage, only he is. The latches on the gates are out of plastic to keep abrupt noises down when shut. There is water in the lairage pens and a very good anti-slip floor found throughout the plant. We did not see any cattle slipping. The unloading ramp is level, the cattle do not need to walk up or down steep slopes. The raceway has solid sides and is curved to the right, based on Temple Grandin principles and worked well. The animals appeared alert but not frightened in the raceway. They were not struggling, mounting or trying to back up. There was not even need for an additional employee to move them forward in the raceway, the animals felt calm enough to move forward on their own when space ahead was available. The restraint box is the newest one from Marel. The animal is not forced into it but rather the head restrainer approaches the animal. They used a pneumatic stunner and due to the good restraint, each animal in our presence was correctly rendered unconscious. The stun man had no problem with us observing, he remained calm and professional and allowed us even to film. We did not see any use of electrical prods or hitting, and feel quite certain that these practices are not used here as the design of the raceway and restraint box are such that force does not seem necessary. The restraint box also did not make any abrupt noise or blow out hissing air.
The question of whether animals should be seen as food remains pertinent, but as long as people insist on eating meat and dairy, we would like to see more plants make such efforts to limit suffering and fear as Vion has done.
It is never a pretty sight, but this restraint box didn’t make much noise nor apply abrupt force on the animals. The cattle were much calmer here than in all other restraint boxes we have seen and the good restraint allowed correct stunning.