Angelique Luijkx, veterinarian
Veterinarian for the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.
Government officials come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they wear suits and carry a briefcase, sometimes a white coat and sturdy rubber boots. You can find the latter at the NVWA. Angelique Luijkx is one of them. She contributes to ensuring animal products that reach consumers are safe and she has guardianship of the welfare of animals in the abattoir.
Watch Angelique Luijkx at work
There are roughly 2 options for veterinarians seeking a practical job in line with their farm animal field of study. Working in a veterinary practice, or becoming a veterinarian for the NVWA, an agency that monitors companies and institutions for compliance with laws and regulations. At the NVWA, you can focus on the import and export of animals and animal products after your veterinarian studies, or you can become a supervising veterinarian at abattoirs. Angelique: ‘I contribute to the health and welfare of animals and to food safety. Taking a life is always difficult, but as a veterinarian, at least I ensure that it happens in the correct way’
Monitoring in the abattoir
Standing in the stalls of a large abattoir, Angelique explains how many animals are processed on-site every day: up to 400 cows, bulls and calves. It is an orderly process that takes place according to strict rules, she says. ‘I check whether the butchers work cleanly, whether the animals are transported correctly and whether they are healthy.’ If necessary, the NVWA can take steps against the abattoir based on her report.
All carcasses are first inspected by official assistants from the Kwaliteitskeuring Dierlijke Sector (KDS) at the abattoir. They dissect the organs to see whether there are diseases. If so, the carcass is removed from the slaughter line. The presiding veterinarian then looks at the complex abnormalities. Angelique: ‘If in doubt, bacteriological studies can also be carried out for confirmation, for example. The result is known within a few days.’
'A comprehensive report about your sick cow from the university, you have to admit that’s impressive?'
Guaranteeing maximum safety
Angelique and a colleague discuss the cases of the day in their office at the abattoir. Out of 160 cattle, 2 had endocarditis, an infection of the heart. One cow had parasites, recognisable from the green spots on the masticatory muscles. ‘Ideally, there would be no cases of sickness, but better now than that abnormal meat finding its way to consumers’, says Angelique.
No set working hours
Angelique works 27 hours a week, spread over 3 fixed days. ‘In principle, I have no set starting times. On Friday, I get my global roster for the following week. I only hear what time I need to start at the end of the previous working day. You see, it depends on what time the animals arrive at the abattoir.’
Alternative structure to the working day
A large proportion of time spent travelling to the abattoir is included in working time. In addition, you can request office-based days for writing up reports. Angelique: ‘I spend an average of 1.5 hours a day on reports and administration. For example, I complete hygiene checklists and lists about traceability of slaughtered products.’
Communication at work
Training to become a supervisory NVWA veterinarian takes six months. The programme consists of numerous modules that cover the legislation and regulations pertaining to slaughtering in detail. Another important aspect of study is training in communications. A veterinarian identifies many things, including abnormalities. It is important that you are able to convey this to the client, able to justify far-reaching decisions and stand your ground in conflict situations if necessary. Angelique: ‘You sometimes have to make far-reaching decisions, even if abattoir workers would prefer a different outcome. In that sense, you are in a position of power. But on the other hand: you are a guest at the abattoir. I think it is very important to greet everyone on arrival. Not only so people know I am about to start my inspection, but also out of genuine respect for the abattoir workers: they work 10 hours a day.’