At the beginning of June 2020, one in six Vion workers in Boxtel tested positively for COVID-19. Mid June, a new test showed that one in three employees was infected - this was only revealed four days later in a press release from Vion. In this same period (June), more than half of the infections in Boxtel originate from the slaughterhouse, as can be seen in this graph:
To the surprise of local residents and local politicians, the slaughterhouse in Boxtel always remained open. This while other slaughterhouses, such as Van Rooi in Helmond, with a similar infection rate, and also Vion's slaughterhouse in Groenlo, were temporarily closed.
According to the Veiligheidsregio Brabant Noord (a regional authority), the outbreak wasn't too serious, and most employees with corona were no longer contagious. The factory in Boxtel is not a corona hotspot, according to the GGD (public health). On June 22, the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) openly distanced itself from the conclusions of the Veiligheidsregio - something that rarely happens - but withdrew it later.
On the 1st of July, the Boxtel municipality council was informed by the Veiligheidsregio. Mayor Wobine Buijs from Oss, deputy chairman of the Veiligheidsregio, together with the Publich Health Service - GGD -, stated that there were no indications of a major risk of infection. She also said that "good agreements" were made with Vion.
Now it appears from internal reports, as published by Omroep Brabant the 11th of September, that the GGD and the Veiligheidsregio knew in June that most of the employees who tested positive did have symptoms. The documents also show that Vion did not keep the agreements. This information was kept from residents of Boxtel.
In these internal reports we read that the economic interests of the company are taken serious in the decision making whether to close Vion or not. Vion itself states to the Veiligheidsregio that a closure would mean an enormous impact on the whole chain from farmer to supermarket.
In her presentation to the municipality on the first of July, Wobine Buijs claims that the health of the workers and residents is of utmost importance and the economic interests are not mentioned...
Veterinarians from the Netherlands food and consumer product safety authority (NVWA) warned on July 5th that COVID measures cannot be properly followed in slaughterhouses, and that the NVWA neglected their warnings. Research by various journalists, and also Shut Down VION! itself, shows that migrant workers live too close together and that working conditions make it almost impossible to keep the distance.
Nevertheless, the GGD maintains that no additional inspections are required at Vion: Vion's own measures are sufficient; preventive testing and more random checks are not necessary.
At the beginning of September, the Dutch employees were ordered to work outside the slaughterhouse on the site, and only the migrant workers were allowed to enter, because Vion cannot comply with the corona measures and the company is afraid that Dutch employees will talk about this. This has been told to us by employees.
In October, while the Netherlands is dealing with increased infections, Vion gets another pat on the back. According to the municipality of Boxtel, "the GGD and the Veiligheidsregio, in cooperation with Vion, have done an excellent job of minimising the risks of a serious outbreak of the coronavirus at the meat giant in Boxtel." Meanwhile, we still don't know whether preventive testing is being carried out, or whether employees are being better protected.
Early 2021 another outbreak happened in Boxtel: almost 100 employees tested positive. An infection rate of more than 6% does not strike the Municipality of Boxtel as remarkable (the average in this municipality is around 50 positive tested per 100 thousand inhabitants) and Vion even manages to blame workers themselves.
Shut Down VION! finds all this very curious. There are strict measures for the entire country, but large companies are allowed to set their own rules. A company like Vion is taken for granted over and over again, even when it turns out they cannot be trusted, and is not taken accountable. All this at the expense of public health and the well-being of the workers.
Selection of articles on the Dutch version of this blog.