Animal Welfare in Animal Husbandry

Our responsibility and that of the producers.

Start Responsibility Sustainability Issues Animal Welfare in Animal Husbandry

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.

Dr. Wilhelm Jaeger

Director of Agriculture Department

Important key figures

Our actions

Animal welfare contact partner for producers

On average in 2018 one German farmer fed approx. 135 people; in 1990 it was 69*. Farmers today work in a much more productive way. At the same time, consumers also expect that quality products be available at a fair price and around the clock.

Farmers have to produce large quantities of top-class products, ensure species-appropriate husbandry of more and more animals, and regularly invest in their husbandry in order to fulfil statutory requirements.

At Tönnies we support our producers in mastering these tasks and remaining sustainable.

No one agricultural company is like another. In recent years, we have developed different husbandry, feed and management systems. In animal husbandry, there is no one ideal solution that is suitable for all.

For the same reason, no husbandry system is good or bad per se. Detailed, animal related observation over the life of the animals is crucial. In all programmes and improvements started and implemented by Tönnies in collaboration with our producers, the focus is thus on careful observation of the individual animal.

Animal welfare measures must be considered as a whole. Improvements in animal husbandry can generally relate to breeding, rearing, fattening, husbandry, feeding and transport. However, changes in one area can have implications for the subsequent areas.

Four central factors for greater animal welfare

Four key factors are important for our producers and us at Tönnies so that we can successfully achieve animal welfare improvements in husbandry. These four factors are important screws that we turn together with our producers – for greater animal welfare in husbandry.

  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 – to thus set suitable incentives 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.

Increased animal welfare by transparent labelling of husbandry systems

In cooperation with German trading companies, in 2018 Tönnies introduced a label for husbandry systems for meat (more information at www.haltungsform.de). Since then, consumers can see on all packaging and at the deli counter how the animals were housed, whose meat we eat.

It is important that the consumer be able to easily and directly identify from which kind of husbandry system an animal originated. The now consistent form of labelling in the German retail industry — (1) Animal Housing, (2) Animal Housing Plus, (3) Outdoor Environment and (4) Premium— provides transparency for consumers.

Tönnies offers meat from all four husbandry systems. Now it is time to increase the demand for meat from the better husbandry systems. With the help of a common and consistent style of labelling, the overall level of animal husbandry could be increased. Therefore, we are committed to bringing the entire basic range of pork which is marketed in the German food retail trade into the husbandry system (2) Animal Housing Plus.

Further programmes at level (3) Outdoor Environment and level (4) Premium will complement this approach to cater to the demand for more comprehensive animal welfare programmes. A statutory determination or even legal requirements around the labelling of husbandry systems would be even better. For this reason, Tönnies is actively participating in the initiative of the German Department of Agriculture to implement a federal animal welfare label. This label could be another step towards an obligatory husbandry label for all marketing channels in Germany.

In 2019, further negotiations for the Initiative Tierwohl’s next phase, which commences in 2021, are being conducted. Tönnies is committed to ensuring that meat from farms which are members of the Initiative Tierwohl be widely available and consistently labelled as meat of the type (2) husbandry system (Animal Housing Plus).

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.

All agents in the value creation chain are obliged to observe animal welfare

The RFID-UHF ear tag stores information from birth to slaughter

In the 21st century, food is produced collaboratively. To ensure and finance better animal welfare, all agents in the value creation chain must participate.

Tönnies interacts with the partners in the value creation chain with the aim of bringing together the often different goals in the area of animal welfare to one common denominator. Tönnies is in contact with the retail industry in particular with regard to how animal welfare programmes are marketed and monetarised. Farmers can and will only improve animal welfare when they receive the financial resources that they invest in husbandry back as profit.

Many agents are involved in the improvement of animal welfare, including farmers, the meat industry, science & research, NGOs, associations, the food industry etc. As a result, sometimes it takes more time than we would like for animal welfare improvements and incentive systems to be put into action and the products to become available in participating stores.

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.

Tönnies Research for better animal welfare in practice

Tönnies Research helps to further research animal welfare criteria for livestock husbandry and to develop recommendations for practice. Both the work supported by Tönnies Research and external work produce valuable findings.

For example, in recent years, many projects have been carried out on the topic of ‘tail-biting’ by pigs. To this end, amongst others, Tönnies Research organised a workshop on tail biting with project managers and scientists from different disciplines. Most work relates to the keeping of fattening pigs.

Scientists and practitioners at the Tail Biting Workshop

Selected findings from the workshop

  • Very different factors can contribute to tail biting. The risk factors and the solutions for individual companies are thus differentiated per site.
  • In force-ventilated full or partial column systems, the criteria of manipulable material, feeding, water supply and animal health play a significant role.
  • Observation by the livestock owner is key to best dealing with tail biting: if the problem is recognised promptly, it is possible to intervene early and introduce measures to make structural changes.
  • The (nutrition) physiological factors of the development of necrosis have been underestimated until now. Tönnies Research will thus provide greater support to work that focuses on the link between intestinal health and tail biting.

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.

Animal Welfare Initiative has been in existence since 2015

Initiative Tierwohl exceeds legal standards

Producers face the greatest expense for improvements in animal welfare in husbandry. They must be paid if they improve their animal husbandry in excess of the legal standards.

For example, producers should be confident that an investment such as the new construction of a modern stall will pay off year after year. This is only the case if the retail industry permanently pays higher purchase prices for particular animal welfare improvements and if the consumer is also willing to pay more for these labelled products.

Initiative Tierwohl shows that remuneration on the basis of measures implemented by the farmer can bring about change.

Initiative Tierwohl strives for nationwide implementation

Tönnies is the founding and development partner of Initiative Tierwohl. Initiative Tierwohl, which was started in 2015, is a collaboration between farmers, the meat industry, animal protection organisations and the food industry. The central goal is to make an offer to as many farmers as possible in order to implement improved animal welfare practices as extensively as possible.

Within the framework of the initiative, participating retailers have committed to pay EUR 0.625 (since 2018) to the initiative per kilogram of pork and sausage sold. This generates approx. EUR 130 million every year which remunerates the famers for the animal welfare improvements.

As of the start of 2018, based on their own data, Initiative Tierwohl had recorded 4,000 pig-husbandry companies with approx. 26 million pigs that have benefited from the animal welfare measures.

More information: www.initiative-tierwohl.de

Key figures Initiative Tierwohl

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.

The expert

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.

Ask us!

Dialogue is important to us. So we would like to hear your questions and respond to the issues that concern you. Write to us!
Our contact partner Dr Wilhelm Jaeger, Director of Tönnies Agriculture, answers your relevant questions here. In the case of similar questions, we group the answers together.

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Dr. Wilhelm Jaeger

Director of Agriculture Department

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