Germany to reform meat industry after corona outbreak exposes abuses

The German government has decided to take swift action against the meat industry, after coronavirus outbreaks at several slaughterhouses led to accusations that eastern European workers are being exploited so that Germans can enjoy cheap meat.

The draft law agreed upon by the government on Wednesday will force slaughter houses to quit the practise of hiring eastern Europeans on short term contracts and will impose heavy fines on companies that fail to comply.

The bill was rapidly drafted by Labour Minister Hubertus Heil and will come into law at the beginning of next year after it has been passed by the Bundestag.

Heil faced pressure to act after Romanian workers at slaughterhouses across the country tested positive with the virus, with at least one likely to have died as a result.

READ ALSO: New coronavirus update at meat processing plant sparks concern across Germany

Trade unions say that the eastern Europeans are the victims of appalling living conditions at the mass accommodation provided for them by sub-contractors hired by the meat packing industry. Furthermore they lament a practise of meat companies contracting out work to subcontractors so that they cannot be held liable when abuses are exposed.

“Sub-contracts are the root of this evil and should be abolished,” trade union boss Anja Piel told DPA. She added that the living and working conditions in the meat industry had been a disaster for years.

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That’s a viewpoint also taken by the Green party, who want to impose a minimum price on meat in the supermarket and use public money to help the meat industry go organic.

“Coupled with higher animal welfare standards and binding labelling of husbandry and origin, an animal welfare levy can also help to finance the conversion to species-appropriate animal husbandry”, Green Party leader Anton Hofreiter said. 

Others on the left are more uneasy about increasing the costs of meat, as they fear it would turn it into a luxury good no longer affordable to their grass-root voters.

 “I do not want a social division over the Schnitzel”, Left Party leader Dietmar Bartsch said.

Announcing the new measures, Heil (SPD) said that it was time to “clean up and take action in this area” as he promised plans to impose fines of up to €30,000 on miscreants. 

The meat industry has hit back at the Labour minister though, saying the the regulation would drive the meat processing industry abroad.

READ ALSO: Explained: Why Germany is in a bitter row over meat

Accusing Heil of lacking any technical or factual knowledge, Heike Harstick, chairwoman of the Meat Industry Association, said short-term contracts were an essential part of the industry and claimed that the whole industry had been labelled as guilty due to corona outbreaks at a small number of slaughterhouses. 

“For many manual jobs, such as in the meat industry, you can no longer find workers on the German market.” Harstick warned that the ban would lead to “large parts of meat production moving abroad”.


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