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Which company is behind the Wiesenhof brand?
A small rural country house on a green meadow and a few trees. With this logo the company “Wiesenhof” advertises for their “products”. It is intended to give consumers a picture of idyllic farms and happy chickens. Thanks to intensive marketing, the brand is very well known throughout Germany and proudly describes itself as “No. 1 poultry brand”. Every third chicken killed for consumption comes from this company. The group behind Wiesenhof, the PHW Group, is the largest animal exploitation group in Germany and the third largest in Europe in the field of chicken breeding, farming and slaughter. The PHW group with company founder Paul Heinz Wesjohann is far more than just a “poultry” producer. It consists of over 40 individual companies:
– 6 hatcheries with parent husbandry
– 5 compound feed factories
– 13 slaughterhouses and processing factories
– Lohmann Animal Health and Vibalogics GmbH: production of poultry vaccines, feed additives, research and development of immunological and biological agents for veterinary and human medicine
– MEGA animal nutrition and PetCom animal nutrition GmbH & Co KG: production of pet food
– GePro Geflügel-Protein GmbH & Co KG: Disposal of poultry slaughter waste or processing into protein and fat products, as well as flavor enhancers for pet, fish and fur animal feed
– Nutrilo: Manufacture of food supplements for human consumption
– Drobimex and Bomadek: poultry production factories in Poland (3,4)
All brands that also come from the PHW Group’s product chain can also be found in discounters. For example the brands Allfein (Allfein Feinkost GmbH; Netto), Gut Ponholz (Heidegold Geflügelspezialitäten GmbH; Netto), Gut Langenhof (Heidegold Geflügelspezialitäten GmbH; Norma), country class (Heidegold Geflügelspezialitäten GmbH; Coop), geka (GEKA fresh + frost Handels GmbH & Co. KG; Aldi-Nord), Heidegold (Heidegold Geflügel GmbH & Co KG; Aldi) and Landjunker (Frischland Premium specialties GmbH & Co.KG; Lidl). (1)
Wiesenhof’s trading partners include REWE, ALDI-Nord, ALDI-Süd, Coop, Homann, EDEKA, Lidl, Kaufland, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Kühne, Real and Wienerwald. (2)
With its exploitative system in 2017/18, the PHW Group generated sales of 2.58 billion euros. (3) With 1,5 million euros, the Poultry Specialties business area with the leading WIESENHOF brand is the area with the highest sales. In order to achieve this turnover, Wiesenhof operates six hatcheries, obtains chickens from 800 fattening factories and has animals slaughtered in chords in 13 slaughterhouses nationwide. (4) Every year, 270 million chickens or 4.5 million chickens are killed on behalf of Wiesenhof. (5)
The guiding principle “working for a better life” – responsibility for people, animals and the environment should strengthen the friendly, personal image of PHW. On its website, the company also advertises the following guidelines for more sustainability, climate protection and social responsibility:
• We think ecologically and sustainably
• We act responsibly
• We maintain open communication
• Security and trust for the customer
• Appreciation and respect towards the employee
Profit at the expense of people, animals and the environment – a chronicle of the scandals
However, the reality is different. For years the group has been criticized for maximizing profit at the expense of people, animals and the environment. Again and again scandalous pictures from supplier companies appear in the media, which prove animal agony on behalf of the company. In addition, it was revealed that Eastern European workers are being exploited as “wage slaves” and that overexploitation of ground and water resources is being carried out. The company is also suspected of subsidy fraud. In contrast, the above-mentioned guidelines of the PHW group sound like sheer mockery.
The individual scandals of the PHW Group with the Wiesenhof brand are summarized below in an annual chronicle.
Foodwatch filed a criminal complaint against the managing director of PHW subsidiary GePro. The accusation at the time: In 2005, GePro allegedly delivered animal meal from slaughterhouse waste of BSE risk category III to non-EU countries. Ultimately, the investigation was stopped due to insufficient suspicion. (6)
In July, the ZDF magazine Frontal21 reported poor working conditions and wages at the company Wiesenhof of Polish guest workers, who should only earn 3.50 euros per hour. In its statement, the PHW Group replied that the employment relationships are properly and regularly checked by the authorities and that, contrary to the statements in the report, the workers receive a gross hourly wage of 5-6 euros, in addition to free accommodation.
The public prosecutor’s office in Stade researched the Lohmann Tierzucht GmbH company after the animal rights organization Peta reported the breeding farm for mutilation and violation of the animal protection law. The allegations: For years the company has shortened combs and chopped toes on chicken chicks – although this is illegal. In addition, “unusable” male chicks were gassed and shredded with carbon dioxide. The court, investigators and lawyers finally agreed that the Lohmann company have to pay a fine of more than 100,000 euros – and that the combs and toes would not be trimmed in the future. The case against one of the two managing directors was terminated due to insignificance. The second company boss was cautioned. (7,8)
The ARD political magazine Report Mainz uncovered serious animal welfare violations in a chicken farm in Niedersachsen. Wiesenhof apologized for the misconduct of the employees and the external companies and separated from the responsible employees and external companies.
The allegations of previous years could be substantiated again by the ARD reportage “The Wiesenhof system – How a poultry company exploits animals, people and the environment” (9). There, recordings that were demonstrably taken in a PHW factory by animal rights activists could confirm the allegations. However, the founder of the PHW company Paul-Heinz Wesjohann rejected these facts in an interview and referred to the subcontractors, in whose work processes PHW have no “legal” intervention options. In addition, he has had no knowledge of such processes and could not confirm whether it is really a PHW factory, although this was clearly recognizable.
In April 2011, according to a report by the news magazine Stern, hygienic defects were discovered at a poultry slaughterhouse belonging to the Wiesenhof Group. There were also several export restrictions for the poultry, according to Stern. Continuous black mold infestation was discovered on the walls and ceilings. The responsible veterinary inspector could not guarantee perfect and hygienic slaughter. There was also talk of contamination of the carcasses with gastrointestinal contents. There was also a violation of carcasses cooling; Exceeding the permitted slaughter quantity was also criticized. The company firmly rejected the allegations. At this point, too, the ARD-exclusive report “Das System Wiesenhof” from August 31, 2011 raised serious allegations.
The public prosecutor’s office in Oldenburg investigated suspected subsidy fraud. The accusation was: Wiesenhof is said to have received export subsidies for years without the necessary EU approval notices. (10,11,12)
In June 2013, a complex network of rapidly changing contractors and temporary employment agencies in the vicinity of the PHW company Geestland in Wildeshausen was exposed, the late repatriates as well as foreign workers from Romania, Bulgaria and Vietnam on very unfavorable terms (three-month contracts, € 0.23 wages per broken turkey ) employed. Foreign workers were quartered in mass accommodations (up to 15 beds per room). Unwanted supporters were apparently intimidated. (13,14,15)
As Stern TV reported in early September 2013, weak animals were thrown into the garbage alive at a Wiesenhof supplier in Bavaria. The allegations are based on current footage of the animal protection organization “Soko animal protection”, which showed how sick animals lie in the barn, the farm owner throws a fluttering animal into the dumpster or how a farm worker tries to kill a wriggling animal on a bucket. (16,17,18,19)
The PHW Group reacted to the repeated allegations with its own media campaign, which was organized by the PR agency Engel & Zimmermann AG based in Gauting. This PR is based on three pillars: 1. Wiesenhof is portrayed as a victim of sensational media 2. It is emphasized that Wiesenhof fulfills legal requirements and acts consistently in the event of violations, and 3. Contact is sought with the end consumer via social media. In view of the images of how Wiesenhof employees brutally abuse animals, the incidents shown were condemned by the company as individual cases and consequences were announced. Again and again, the group transfers responsibility to subcontractors and consumers who want to buy meat as cheaply as possible.
“Privathof”: burst image change and lying animal welfare
Since October 2011, the Wiesenhof chicken with the Privathof brand has been kept “animal-friendly” according to the company. In January 2013, Privathof was awarded the animal protection label by the German Animal Protection Association. Here the research department of Wiesenhof together with the LMU Munich under the direction of Prof. Dr. Michael Erhard (Head of the Chair for Animal Welfare, Behavioral Science, Animal Hygiene and Animal Health) developed a “particularly animal-friendly” form of husbandry. They are chickens that are kept in large stalls under classic chicken husbandry conditions. In order to reach a final weight of around 1.7 kg, the animals of the “Cobb Sasso” breed need about 10 days longer – 40 days instead of 30 days – as breeding lines of the conventional breeds “Ross 308” or “Ross 708”. Wiesenhof therefore speaks of a slowly growing chicken breed. However, it should be borne in mind here that a chicken in freedom can live well over 10 years. Pick stones and bales of straw are supposed to provide variety.
The stocking density at 15 animals per square meter is slightly lower than in the conventional fattening (20-23 animals). By the end of the year, all farms should be equipped with covered outdoor areas, so-called cold scratching rooms. At the moment, only 35 farms are participating in this concept and this form of mast does not really differ from the conventional one, as Soko Tierschutz has shown in current video recordings. (20) The conventional chicken fattening at Wiesenhof is about 95% (according to their own information, 10,000 of 4.5 million animals killed are from “biological husbandry”). But no matter what kind of farming it is, it is and remains factory farming and only in this way it remains lucrative for Wiesenhof. The animals are denied all rights and basic needs such as scratching, exploring the environment, building a social structure, pecking the food, healthy care and, above all, self-determination and freedom, because this does not fit into the concept of chicken fattening, which is money with the animals kept wants to earn.
Nevertheless, the former Wiesenhof chairman Paul Heinz Wesjohann knows in a newspaper interview about “happy chickens” that they “essentially need water, feed, enough oxygen, dry straw and a resting place”. (21) Documentation has shown that the reality in fattening farms is not identical to what Wesjohann describes. The chickens live in their own excrement because cleaning the stables would be unprofitable. They are exposed to permanent stress and tightness, as up to 23 chickens have to share a square meter of space. They live in constant competition for food and space and suffer from painful diseases such as bone and muscle malformations as well as organ diseases due to “turbo growth”.
In December 2014, activists from the animal rights organization animal Equality filmed terrifying conditions in a duck fattening factory from Neuhardenberger Entenmast GmbH in Letschin, Brandenburg. The fattening farm supplies one million ducks each year for the Wiesenhof brand of the PHW Group. In the video recordings that have been published in many media, you can see how some ducks lie on their backs and can no longer stand up, others are severely injured and bleed, employees run through the facility with pitchforks and kill the seriously ill ducks. In addition, there is no place on the pictures where the aquatic animals can swim or bathe. (22)
In April 2016, Romanian temporary and contract workers are fired after the fire in Lohne. All major slaughterhouses in the region rely on subcontractors. They then send their own workers to do certain tasks like packing chicken. If production fails, as after the devastating fire, the company can simply terminate the subcontractor at short notice – Wiesenhof does not have to worry about what will become of the employees. (23)
Some will already be familiar with the Bruzzzler commercials with Atze Schröder dripping with sexism. And if you thought it couldn’t get any tastier, PHW / Wiesenhof is teaching them better. In a commercial posted online at the end of March 2016, Atze Schröder – who likes to allude to sausages on penises – spoke the following words into the cameras: “And are you ready for the biggest sausage of the summer? Here’s the thing. After that, Gina and Lisa have to go to trauma therapy. ”
The background to these words seems to be a rape allegation by Gina-Lisa Lohfink (known by Germany’s Next Top Model) from 2012 against two men she met in a Berlin club. The two men filmed the rape and posted the videos on the Internet without Lohfink’s knowledge. In the recordings, which were also regarded as evidence in the investigation by the Berlin public prosecutor, Gina-Lisa Lohfink appears impassive and aphatic and repeatedly says “No, No, No” and “Stop it”.
However, the Berlin public prosecutor’s office saw no rape in this and imposed a penalty order on Lohfink because she wrongly accused the two men. Lohfink’s lawyer has lodged an appeal against this criminal order. At the end of June 2016, the first day of the trial now came, and judgment is expected in early August. Once again, a victim of sexual violence is made a perpetrator because a no according to the (previous) legal definition is not sufficient to make a non-consent clear.
The solidarity with Lohfink and the outrage about PHW / Wiesenhof’s commercial is great. After growing protests against this commercial, PHW / Wiesenhof was forced to remove it from the Internet. The musician and ambassador from Werder Bremen (sponsored by PHW / Wiesenhof) Jan Delay also drew his conclusions from the spot. He resigned from his post as ambassador until Werder published a statement on the commercial. And Lohfink himself is now considering legal steps against PHW / Wiesenhof.
Atze Schröder and PHW / Wiesenhof reacted to the protest against their commercial by trying to make excuses. Schröder wrote on Facebook: “The commercial was shot a year ago and should never have been published. Especially not now that he is making a connection that is disgusting and was never thought of. “And further:” I am absolutely and without exception against any form of sexual violence.
This “apology” is not the only joke by Atze Schröder that is not funny. How can Schröder claim to be against sexual violence, while at the same time constantly reproducing sexisms that lead to sexual violence. And then to pretend that Schröder and PHW / Wiesenhof had no connection to the Gina-Lisa Lohfink incidents that were made public in 2012, seems another insolent attempt to steal responsibility. And even if there had been no personal reference to Gina-Lisa, the statement that after the “big sausage” someone needs trauma therapy is nothing more than a glorification of sexual violence.
Incidentally, the disgusting Bruzzzler commercials were produced by these companies: Ferry Film & TV Produktions GmbH in Hamburg and KD&P Werbeagentur GmbH in Bremen (the latter also produced the currently discussed spot, according to PHW / Wiesenhof) (24)
In April 2016, research in PHW / Wiesenhof’s animal factories again brought the everyday conditions behind the walls of the animal exploitation industry to the public. The research was carried out in three fattening plants and in hatcheries. Video material shows, among other things, how ducklings that are not profitable are shredded in full consciousness at the Duck Tec (Wiesenhof) hatchery in Wriezen (Brandenburg).
Here is the video of the research:
On August 8, 2017, the case against the managing director of the Wiesenhof subsidiary “Geestland Turkey Specialties” was opened in Wildeshausen in front of the Oldenburg District Court. The former commercial director of PHW / Wiesenhof was also charged. He was accused of helping him in this process. It was about the illegal employment of 800 (!) People whose work were used for dumping wages. That is said to have saved ten million euros. Further proceedings will take place next year. It will be about the fact that not only the Wiesenhof subsidiary slaughter factory in Wildeshausen, but also illegal workers were procured for Wiesenhof itself.(25)
On December 19, 2017, the lawsuit against 4 meat companies was held in Düsseldorf for illegal price fixing. Fearing that the trial for Wiesenhof could result in even higher fines, the meat company withdrew its objection at short notice. Does someone have something to hide? Wiesenhof said: “Even if we were not involved in price fixing, we have no guarantee that we will be able to prove our innocence in court.” Sure! (26)
You can find more information about the process and how the meat industry has avoided millions of fines here:
The managing director of a Bulgarian contracting company is charged with the Oldenburg district court. From 2009 to 2010, the defendant had contracted contract workers to a German intermediate company, which in turn had the workers toil at the Wiesenhof slaughterhouse in Lohne. The workers saw only half of the hourly wage of eight euros and had to pay the cost of their accommodation from these four euros! The accused managing director of the Bulgarian company has now avoided the process and apparently is waiting for the statute of limitations to expire. The German intermediate company should also get a trial, but PHW / Wiesenhof seems to be fine again. Once again, PHW / Wiesenhof does not have to fear any consequences for the illegal machinations in the opaque network of their intermediate companies. PHW / Wiesenhof is only making a profit from this exploitation. (27)
“The doctor Florian Kossen from Goldenstedt (Vechta district) and his brother, the Catholic priest Peter Kossen, criticize the working conditions in large slaughterhouses. Eastern European workers who work in large slaughterhouses such as Wildeshausen, Ahlhorn and Lohne “would be used, consumed, worn out and then disposed of”, they report in a statement released on Friday. (…) “(NDR) (28)
“The opponents, the district of Vechta and the chicken slaughter Wiesenhof, are keeping quiet in the dispute over potentially illegal water withdrawals. On request, the district confirmed only an administrative offense procedure. The district did not want to provide any further information, such as the amount of the fine, because of the “ongoing proceedings”. The company confirmed that the district had imposed a fine, and the company had appealed. The Wiesenhof group was accused, among other things, by the NABU nature conservation association of taking more water from groundwater wells than permitted at its slaughterhouse in Lohne. “(29)
“Lohne. The Lower Saxony Nature Protection Association is again suing the Vechta district. The municipality had allowed the Wiesenhof Group to extract 250,000 cubic meters of groundwater annually from two wells. This permit would last for 30 years. The water extraction is drying out the entire region, the criticism. “(NDR) (30,31)
“The Wiesenhof poultry company slaughtered far more chickens than approved at the Königs Wusterhausen site. The company apparently doesn’t care about court decisions and fines – and the company is already building on its site again. ”(Rbb24) (32). ”(Rbb24) (32)
Human rights activists from the district of Vechta have once again criticized the living conditions of workers in the meat industry. During a home visit to an accommodation in Goldenstedt in the Vechta district, the doctor Florian Kossen was repeatedly able to identify catastrophic conditions in the living conditions there. The rooms are too small, large mold areas have been discovered on the walls, directly in front of them the beds of the workers and their families. (33)
5 Die Welt, 13.02.2009, Andrea Exler, So funktioniert die geheime Wiesenhof-Maschinerie
6 Die Tiermehl-Schmuggler: Der foodwatch-Report über illegale Exporte von Tiermehlen, unkontrollierte tierische Abfälle und die Komplizenschaft der Behörden, 21.02.2007
7 taz, Strafbefehl wegen Tierquälerei, 14.02.2011, taz.de/!65905
8 Spiegel 38/2011, Rekordbuße für Zuchtbetrieb Lohmann
10 Politik: Ermittlungen bei Wiesenhof,Süddeutsche Zeitung 28.04.2012
11 Subventionsbetrug? Razzia bei Wiesenhof Staatsanwaltschaft Oldenburg bestätigt Durchsuchungen in Niedersachsen und im Jerichower Land,Volksstimme 28.04.2012
12 Offenbar neue Ermittlungen gegen Wiesenhof, NDR 06.04.2012
13 Reportage: Lohnsklaven in Deutschland – Miese Jobs für billiges Fleisch, ARD Sendung vom 24. 06. 2013
14 Lohnsklaven in Deutschland: Mafiapaten der Schlachthöfe,Hamburger Abendblatt vom 24.06.2013
15 Skandalöse Verhältnisse in der Fleischindustrie: Lohnsklaven in Deutschland,Süddeutsche Zeitung 23. 06. 2013
16 Wiesenhof am Pranger: Strafanzeige gegen Hühnermäster, Süddeutsche Zeitung 11.09.2013
17 Tierquälerei bei Wiesenhof-Mäster: Lebendig in den Müll geworfen, SternTV 04.09.2013
18 REPORT MAINZ deckt auf: Wieder Tierquälerei auf Wiesenhof-Farm, Report Mainz 20.08.2013
19 Tierquälerei trotz Tierschutzlabel: Wertlose Wiesenhof-Garantie, taz, 05.09.2013
21 Die Welt, 22.03.2009, Andrea Exler, Geflügelzucht ist eine große soziale Tat
22 Enten in Brandenburg misshandelt: Gequälter Weihnachtsbraten, taz, 19.12.2014
33 Kossen-Brüder beklagen Schimmelzimmer für Arbeiter, NDR 1 Niedersachsen, 27.05.2019