The Netherlands is the biggest exporter of meat in the European Union, and in 2020, it exported 8.8 billion euros’ (about $9 billion) worth of pork, beef and poultry, primarily to Germany (beef and veal), Britain (poultry) and China (primarily pork).
Vion Food Group has 12 production locations for pigs. Four of these are in the Netherlands and eight are in Germany. The company slaughters 15 million pigs and almost 1 million cows annually — that’s more than half of all Dutch pigs and nearly 40 percent of Germany’s total swine herd. Boxtel, a town in the southern Netherlands, is home to Vion’s largest pig slaughter facility, dispatching 20,000 pigs per day. Vion uses artificial intelligence to detect and flag signs of animal cruelty and to minimize animal stress. In many U.S. slaughter facilities, crowding and high noise levels can increase animals’ fear, and animals are frequently killed via electrocution, which many experts say is less humane.
Pigs ready for slaughter are 175 days old and weigh about 265 pounds. Upon arrival by truck from regional farms, 80 pigs are herded off a platform and into the facility, and a veterinarian checks for sick or wounded animals.
Animals are led to the stunning area, where they are sedated by carbon monoxide gas. Once the animals are anesthetized, they are hung by their legs and killed swiftly via stabbing.
Blood samples are taken to verify the health of animals before the carcasses are dipped in a hot bath to remove bristles, the remainder are burned off at high temperature (which also kills bacteria). Pigs are cut in half longitudinally and then cooled from 98.6 degrees down to 44 degrees Fahrenheit.
From there, animals are processed into hams, shoulders and middles, with much of the butchering done by hand. Internal organs are sold to China and for pet food, hams are often sold to Italy, and ribs may find their way to major restaurant chains in the United States.
Kipster is an egg company aimed at improving animal welfare, tackling food waste and producing certified carbon-neutral eggs. Farms incorporate natural light and fresh air, and chickens are free from cages to pursue their instincts and animal natures. And in a departure from the global practice of killing male chicks that are irrelevant in the egg-laying business, the males are kept and raised for meat.
Kipster chickens are fed entirely with food waste from supermarkets and food manufacturers, rather than with commodity grains. Thirty percent of the world’s grain production is for animal feed but “I’d rather use all arable land to produce cereals for people,” said managing director Ruud Zanders.
“We need to close the gap between what we’re doing as farmers and what people want,” which is more ethically and sustainably produced food, Zanders said.
Kipster was launched by four entrepreneurs in 2017 and now has three farms in the Netherlands as well as a farm in North Manchester, Ind., from which Kroger buys all of Kipster’s eggs. By next June there will be four farms in the United States, with each house containing 24,000 birds, and each of the facilities will be open to the public to observe the animal welfare practices.
Farms have indoor gardens with skylights, trees, tree trunks for climbing and ground for pecking (the birds are not de-beaked). With zero emissions, the farms’ energy is generated by solar panels. Zanders uses Dekalb White chickens — a calm and sociable breed. White birds and white eggs have a 5 percent lower carbon footprint than brown birds and brown eggs (brown birds are a bit bigger and eat more, and white birds and eggs reflect the sun more effectively). Adult male birds and females at the end of their productivity are used primarily for meatballs sold in Europe by the Lidl grocery chain, which also buys all of Dutch Kipster’s eggs.
The concept was developed with input from both the Dutch Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as well as Wageningen University & Research to maximize animal welfare and to ensure flexibility and scalability. With an easy-to-assemble modular construction, Zanders said, the Kipster model is replicable and suitable for urban agriculture.
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