Swedish food industry – as fair as you think?

You may recognize the circle above. “Från Sverige” (from Sweden) is a label which guarantees that the meat is 100% Swedish. The blue and yellow stamp implies that choosing Swedish meat is a choice you should be proud of. But is it? Less than a year ago, Aftonbladet discovered how chickens were boiled alive at Kronfågels slaughterhouse. The scandal truly collides with the description that Sweden has the best animal husbandry in the world – a sentence that’s often reflected by politicians or through advertising. So, to ease my conscience the next time I’m eating meatballs, I need to understand: is Swedish animal husbandry actually fair- or are all countries simply on a scale of bad animal care?

According to World Animal Protection, Swedish animal welfare legislation goes beyond and above EU law. We require larger minimum space requirements for the animals, we have 8 hour limits for transportation of animals for slaughtering and in addition to that, cows must be out on pasture during the summer. Similarly, beak trimming and tail docking (pigs and dogs) are prohibited, and there is a full ban on the use of sow stalls and farrowing crates. Sweden also provides detailed requirements where such provisions don’t exist at EU level, for example for dairy cows. A high use of antibiotics is used to camouflage poor animal husbandry, so maybe the best proof that our animal health is good is that Sweden uses very little antibiotics in our breeding. 0.3 percent of the flocks treated in 2020 – which is among the best in the world. 

Despite our unusually strict rules and relatively healthy animals, there are some big flaws in the system and a couple of horrifying scandals have sadly been discovered during the last years. Kronfågel operates one of the biggest slaughterhouses in Sweden, where more than one million chickens are killed – every week! In 2021 they were accused of animal cruelty when Aftonbladet, trough a review together with Viafree, revealed that multiple chickens have been boiled alive at the slaughterhause. Descriptions of chicken being held captive without ever seeing the light, only to be killed through miserable conditions, made me question if choosing Swedish meat is something to be proud of? An important question is whether Aftonbladet happened to discover a coincidence or a common problem. Unfortunately, Aftonbladet is not the only media that has reported miserable conditions in Swedish farms and slaughterhouses. Last year, SVT and Uppdrag Granskning discovered a number of shortcomings on several Swedish farms. Sick and weak animals, even dead ones, were discovered on some of the farms that the reporters visited. 

So, how come we are described as a country with good animal welfare, while major failures are being discovered by the media? Signar Mäkitalo, infection control doctor at Region Sörmland, commented on the situation with Kronfågel:

“They are in too much of a hurry. It’s going too fast. They have not built the facility or adapted the crew for this speed. It’s to make money of course”.

And Signar is right. In a capitalistic society, animals will have to pay the price when companies are in a hurry to grow and make more money. While reading several articles, I get the feeling that Sweden has good chances of treating their animals respectfully – but we have become victims to capitalism. Too many animals fall victim to stress and negligence in the factories. The laws are getting tougher, the debate on animal welfare is getting bigger – but the shortcomings and the mistakes due to the large scale needs to disappear to make me a proud buyer of Swedish meat. 

In conclusion, I believe in the Swedish food industry, but we cannot accept an unsustainable food system. Meat consumption has decreased in the past four years, from record numbers at 88.4 kg per capita in 2016 to 78.6 kg per capita in 2020. Despite the downward going trend, swedes still eat a lot of meat. Over 100 million animals are killed every year at Swedish slaughterhouses – and the farmed animals have to pay the price for our hunger. With the following in mind, I think it is extremely important that we treat animals with respect, from birth to death. And don’t forget – the best way to treat an animal is to not eat it at all. Anammas veggie-mince is a perfect substitute that tastes almost like (or even better than) meat, and vegetarian food is usually great for a student’s wallet too!

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