What do Swiss meat companies do better?


NA first case has also become known in Switzerland, where employees of a slaughterhouse have been infected with the new corona virus. In May, 16 people tested positive for Covid-19 at a slaughterhouse in Emmental. This is of course no comparison to the numbers that make headlines in Germany: In the meat factory Tönnies in the district of Gütersloh alone, more than 1,500 employees were infected. Why has the Swiss meat industry come through the corona crisis so lightly so far? The starting point is similar to that in Germany: Because hardly any locals can be found for the hard physical work in chilled halls, many Eastern Europeans also work in the almost 700 Swiss slaughterhouses. And these are often recruited through subcontractors such as Top Akkord H. Heinen AG, a broker of specialists for the meat industry from the canton of Lucerne.

The Emmental operation of Ernst Sutter AG, in which the 16 employees (out of a total of 210) became infected, also works with Top Akkord. “One of the main differences to Germany is probably that our meat companies do not put their employees in collective accommodation,” says Ruedi Hadorn, director of the Swiss meat association SFF. Foreign workers would have to take care of their own home so that they had less close contact with their colleagues outside of work.

Particularly attractive for specialists from low-wage countries

There were strict hygiene regulations in the factories themselves, which had been tightened significantly after the outbreak of the pandemic. In addition to distance rules and protective masks and goggles, separating plexiglass lenses, face visors and break rooms enlarged by tents are among the instruments in the fight against possible infections. However, the risk of a major outbreak is also reduced by the fact that Swiss companies are significantly smaller than in Germany. “The quantities that Tönnies processes within a day are not even created by our largest slaughterhouses in a week,” explains Hadorn.

As the association director emphasizes, the Swiss meat industry must not undermine the applicable social standards: “The industry is subject to collective agreements. The requirements laid down there apply to all employees in the meat factories, including those who are employed by subcontractors. ”Among other things, the overall employment contract stipulates minimum wages that are approximately twice as high as in Germany. According to the industry, a meat slicer working in a chord can get a monthly wage of more than 5000 francs. This makes Switzerland particularly attractive for qualified workers from low-wage countries. At the same time, there is more transparency than in Germany: Every foreigner who works in a meat company needs a work permit from the authorities.

The significantly higher labor costs in connection with stricter rules for the protection of animal welfare are reflected in the sales prices for meat, which are more than twice as high in Switzerland as in Germany. In order to protect domestic suppliers from the much cheaper producing competition from abroad, the Swiss state imposes high tariffs on imported meat. As a private individual, you can only carry one kilo of meat across the border duty-free per day. For quantities in excess of this, duties of CHF 17 to CHF 23 per kilo are payable.

Switzerland is also not free from scandals

Because of the large price difference, most shopping tourists from Switzerland, who spend an estimated CHF 10 billion abroad annually, have meat and sausages on their shopping list. Including these purchases, the meat consumption of the Swiss population is likely to be about the same as in Germany, where 60 kilos are consumed per capita per year. “I hope that the headlines from Germany, which emanate an urge for the cheapest possible meat, will at least make Swiss border tourists think and thus lead to increased meat purchases in Switzerland,” says Hadorn.

According to a company spokeswoman, the 16 employees, including some Swiss, who were affected by Corona in the Emmental meat business, have now fully recovered and are back to work. The spokeswoman was unable to assess whether, as is evident in the case of Tönnies, the air circulation system for cooling the slaughterhouse could have promoted the spread of the virus.

But as a preventative measure against viral aerosols in the air, all employees wear mouth and nose protection and an additional plastic face mask. “We assume that the employees have become infected in the private environment,” said the spokeswoman. There are currently no more corona cases in the entire group of companies, which shows that the security concept works.

However, the Swiss meat industry is not free of scandals either. In 2015, the Graubünden meat trader Carna Grischa caused a sensation because he falsified expiry dates, sold thawed goods as fresh meat and declared horse meat as beef. Last year, the Swiss Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office examined 67 slaughterhouses. The Office found deficits in animal welfare in the majority of these farms. However, the office had deliberately selected risk operations that had previously attracted negative attention at cantonal level. So it was not a representative survey.

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