We require that the animals that we slaughter and process be kept and raised in a reasonable manner. At Tönnies we support our producers in ensuring and further developing animal welfare and animal protection in husbandry.
Animal welfare in animal husbandry
At Tönnies we support our producers in ensuring and further developing animal welfare and animal protection in husbandry. We work in close collaboration with them so that they address the right issues and find common approaches to finding investments in husbandry that also benefit farmers.
1. Animal welfare improvements in collaborative production can only be guaranteed if a common approach is adopted by the persons involved. Tönnies thus also accepts responsibility in this regard.
2. Animal welfare improvements must draw on scientifically verified criteria – Tönnies Research is working intensively on this with an annual budget of approx. EUR 300,000.
3. Animal welfare improvements that exceed statutory standards cost money. The majority of this money should go to the producers – suitable incentives must be set for producers.
4. The data on the ante and post mortem checks recorded by veterinarians and inspectors can be used to draw comprehensive conclusions on the welfare of the animals. The Tönnies Agriculture department uses this information to develop criteria and improvements in husbandry and searches for solutions with producers.
Official slaughtering inspection for complete diagnostic data on animal welfare
Official veterinarians and meat inspectors within the region examine every animal slaughtered by Tönnies. The goal is to establish the health condition and well-being of the animals when they arrive at the site and the condition of the animals on the slaughter line.
The slaughter line is used to examine the carcases and internal organs. All diagnostic data is collected, analysed and archived in the Agriculture Department at Tönnies. The recorded diagnostic data enables detailed conclusions to be drawn on the well-being of the animals during the holding period.
A veterinarian will examine the health of the pigs on arrival
This data is a good indicator of the animal’s welfare
Healthy joints are an indication that a pig is being kept appropriately. However, if there is joint inflammation, this can be a sign that the animals are moving too little and lying down too much or that injuries have been sustained and germs have penetrated the joints. The data documents any injuries.
If the animals bite each other’s tails, this is a sign of stress. This can be caused, for example, by food jealousy, a lack of hygiene or being held in cramped conditions. Optimal husbandry is no guarantee that this behaviour will not occur. However, good hygiene and grain quality, sufficient space at the feeding stations, and activity options help to ensure the integrity of the tail.
Ear biting is also a reaction by the animal to stress. Similar factors to tail biting can contribute, such as food jealousy, a lack of hygiene, being held in cramped conditions and the like. The official inspections thus also check whether the ears of the animals show injuries. This is recorded in the data.
Like many of us, fattening pigs can also have respiratory infections. Often these can be recognised on the slaughter line even after the infection has healed. To reduce infections, careful control of the stall climate is particularly important. The key task is to ensure a comfortable temperature for the pigs in the stall. Ammonia residue from the animal manure can also affect the respiratory passages. For this reason, the respiratory organs are carefully observed during the meat inspection.
In pigs, a healthy intestine is essential for digestion, for the high efficiency of the animal, but also for the immune system. Approx. 70 per cent of the antibodies created by the body are released by the intestinal mucosa. If the intestine is not healthy, the risk of illness increases. It is thus the responsibility of farmers to ensure that the pigs maintain balanced intestinal flora.
The liver data often includes important information on any infestation of the liver with illnesses such as worms. Worms are not a health risk for the animals; however the efficiency of the animal is reduced and thus often its growth during fattening. Deworming at the start of fattening is thus a standard remedy during fattening. The liver data is documented in detail by Tönnies.
The parameters are analysed for every animal and systematically evaluated. The data is fed back to the agricultural companies, specifically in the case of noteworthy evaluations. These form the basis for advice to the companies on permanently improving animal welfare. The companies also receive the corresponding infrastructure from Tönnies with internet-based data response and reporting systems for the individual company.
Our next goals
A key challenge is the integration of scientific results into breeding. This is all about breeding robust, resistant pigs with good meat quality.
The further development of our current husbandry system towards alternative animal-friendly husbandry systems which meet the sensitivities of the animals is a significant task for the future. Tönnies already has a clear timetable for approaching this task. First initiatives are promising. Husbandry systems which provide pigs with separate functional areas to fulfil their needs have already been put into practice in the so-called ‘Fairfarm’ concept.
Pilot and niche projects of new husbandry systems have meanwhile grown into mainstream concepts, in particular the Outdoor Environment pen. In cooperation with our partners we are working on spreading these concepts. For the stall of the future.
We are working on the same concepts concerning piglet production. In this regard we are running a large-scale project with pens that enable sows to run free as well as to group-suckle piglets.
However, none of this will work without increased demand for meat from husbandry systems that exceed statutory obligations. Hence, we are working on developing a transparent husbandry label. The retail sector provided the beginning. Now it is important that the husbandry system (2) Animal Housing Plus become the standard offering in all German grocery stores. There is nothing preventing the integration of these criteria with already developed concepts for a federal animal welfare label.
Finally, other marketing channels also need to participate, or statutory obligations for a comprehensive husbandry label must be developed.
This occurs using modern technology, with help from farmers, veterinarians, etc. Strict regulations also require us to record and document this data. We thus collect, archive and analyse data on health, growth, veterinary inspections and so forth; for example, blood value data and the use of antibiotics. With pigs, this is carried out via the ear tags which store important data and – if required – this data can be exported. We thus further develop our cooperation with farmers and can track our raw materials for retail stores and consumers.
We regularly send the diagnostic data on the animals to our farmers. They then know that we are aware of the situation in the stall. If particular limits are exceeded, the producers often come to us themselves and ask for advice. We look for causes on site with our farmers and discuss ways to improve the situation. Then we observe whether the values in the diagnostic data have improved.
We are primarily business partners and have economic interests. However, we both gain the most from the partnership if we understand the goals of the other and work towards these goals. For us at Tönnies, this means: the farmer must benefit from the improvements in stall management just as much as we do. We also need a clear distribution of roles: the farmer knows best what happens in his or her stall and decides what to change. We support them where we can.