During the coronavirus crisis, the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) responded indifferently and negligently to warnings that the situation in slaughterhouses was not safe. Employees were also insufficiently protected. This is evident from internal mails and documents by two veterinarians who work for the NVWA that Nieuwsuur TV program has.
From the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, NVWA’s own people warned about the situation in the slaughterhouses. But the vets Martien Scheepers and Jerome Stokkermans, who have to monitor animal welfare and food safety in the slaughterhouses, do not feel sufficiently heard and “let down” by the NVWA management.
Distressed NVWA employees also report to the FNV trade union federation, says executive member Mieke van Vliet. “They also wanted permanent services, and not moving from plant to plant, but that was not followed.” According to the NVWA, this is attempted, but it is not feasible within the roster. According to Scheepers and Stokkermans, an alternative timetable is not being considered.
Van Vliet says that there are guidelines from the NVWA, but that they prove unworkable in practice. Only after a number of major outbreaks in slaughterhouses does change take place.
MPs are shocked. “You can expect that an organization created to monitor compliance with rules will also itsel\f comply with the rules,” says D66 Member of Parliament Tjeerd de Groot. …
Party for the Animals MP Esther Ouwehand: “We can conclude that the minister has misinformed the House. Either she was misinformed by the NVWA bosses, or she deliberately sent the wrong information. Both are serious.”
Scheepers’ wife, who also works for the NVWA, also sent an urgent letter to her boss at the beginning of May. She was shocked by the so-called hygiene locks in the slaughterhouse where she works. “I didn’t know what I was seeing, people pushing each other away to wash hands quickly. There is a distance of 0 cm. I think this is a ticking time bomb.”
The manager replied that she will discuss it in “a few days”: “I don’t know if we can do anything about it if the corporation gives us the space. In addition, employees sit side by side in the working environment, canteen, transport and very they probably live close together. … ” On May 12, Scheepers’ wife developed corona-like symptoms. She was only tested after insistence and indeed proved to be positive. …
In early May, half of the vets said in an internal survey that they regularly cannot keep a meter and a half distance. Two-thirds say that keeping a distance in the meat sector is impossible. Nevertheless, Minister of Agriculture, Carola Schouten, replied to parliamentary questions: “inquiries at the NVWA did not show that the RIVM health authority guidelines are not being complied with on a large scale”.
There have been coronavirus outbreaks in at least five slaughterhouses and meat processing companies in the Netherlands. It has been clear to Scheepers and Stokkermans from the start that the RIVM guidelines are “not enforceable at all”. Stokkermans e-mails his supervisor: “For many years we have been working there under often miserable and unhealthy conditions … Conditions were already on the edge, but are completely unacceptable under the current coronavirus conditions.”
The concerns in the Netherlands are still increasing. On March 22, an NL alert is issued: ‘keep your distance’. But that still doesn’t happen in the slaughterhouses. The most experienced NVWA supervisors, the ‘Senior Supervising Veterinarians’, send an angry email to the management.
“We work in places where sick people are working. Where insufficient protective equipment is available. We feel let down (in every possible way) by our management.” They email colleagues: “We keep on going as if there is no coronavirus.”