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9 October 2020

COVID-19: how the Belgian meat industry manages unprecedented situations

The corona pandemic confronted the entire world with unprecedented situations. The meat industry took a bad hit when workers in slaughterhouses in several different countries became infected. How is the Belgian meat industry managing this crisis? And how do we generally deal with unprecedented health and food safety issues? Because, when it comes to hygiene and food safety, there is no room for compromise.

Governmental supervision

At the start of the pandemic, the government and the FASFC imposed extra measures to monitor animal and human health and the safety of the food that was produced.

A Risk Assessment Group—RAG-COVID Animals—was established to protect public health. Its task was to support the federal corona COVID-19 crisis group. At the same time, the FASFC set up a specific website (available in Dutch and French) with measures and recommendations for operators in the food chain.

Additional measures based on progressive insight

A hands-on prevention plan was worked out by FEBEV, the National Federation of slaughterhouses, cutting plants and wholesalers. This plan was updated regularly, according to progressive insight during the pandemic.

Additional measures include:

  • Hygiene campaigns for workers (in different languages)
  • Non-essential meetings and trainings are postponed or organized digitally
  • Reorganization of offices to facilitate social distancing
  • When social distancing is not possible: mandatory mouth masks or the use of Plexiglass face shields
  • Spreading breaks and reducing the number of canteen chairs
  • Minimal contact with external truck drivers

Most of these measures do not impact daily operations, which are already fully optimised for hygiene and food safety.

Progressive insight

Most of the companies in the meat industry have followed the plan. So far, in most of the plants, no co-workers have tested positive for COVID-19. In August, employees of one of Belgium’s leading meat producers did test positive, but thanks to quick and decisive testing, the disease did not spread to other divisions.

Product Manager of the concerned cutting plant: “When several employees became infected, we decided to have all of our employees tested, and we made extra investments to secure everyone’s health and to prevent further spread. We learned, we took action and we carried on. We’re used to dealing with changing situations.”

We learned, we took action and we carried on. We’re used to dealing with changing situations.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have been unforeseen, but the Belgian meat industry was ready for it. Comprehensive health and safety measures have always been in place to prevent—or respond to—unprecedented situations.

All in all, the COVID-19 outbreak did not change very much in Belgium’s extremely strict health and safety regulations in the meat production chain. Under the supervision of Belgium’s Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC), the industry can rely on an exemplary and overarching control structure.

Read more about why it was essential to monitor safe local production: COVID-19 and the impact on the global (and local) meat trade.


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