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Assessing Effectiveness of Slaughterhouse Regulatory Regimes

13 April 2013

Research into the social processes in place in slaughterhouses in the UK to gain insight into the potential impact of regulatory reform found that in general the current regulatory regime was effective in ensuring that meat was fit for human consumption.

The official controls that exist in slaughterhouses in the UK have developed over many decades. These were originally designed to manage hazards that were characterised by pathological changes, largely detectable by visual inspection.

The Food Standards Agency which carried out the study said that it was its role to ensure that official controls are risk based, proportionate, targeted and cost effective.

The study aimed to improve and deepen the agency's understanding of those involved in the delivery of official controls in the slaughterhouse environment.

The project aimed to deliver a better understanding of:

  • the drivers and barriers that help or hinder food business organisations taking full responsibility for food safety (in the context of building a greater holistic understanding of food business organisations food safety behaviours)
  • the drivers and barriers that help or hinder veterinarians and meat hygiene inspectors to undertake effective enforcement action (in the context of building a greater holistic understanding of enforcers’ behaviours)

This evaluation included:

  • a scoping stage to identify existing evidence.
  • key informant interviews to help inform subsequent stages of the research.
  • case studies, consisting of two-day visits when researchers will conduct a range of interviews and observation within 24 slaughterhouses.

Main Study Findings

Roles

Officials were concerned with protecting consumers. Official Veterinarians (OVs) saw their role as safeguarding the public, animal health and welfare by ensuring compliance with slaughterhouse regulations, while the Official Auxiliary’s role was to ensure that meat was fit for human consumption. Food business operators (FBOs) felt that providing quality meat to retailers was their primary role, while slaughterhouse staff remained focused on carrying out their allotted tasks.

Food safety

FBOs held different interpretations of their food safety obligations and often their understanding differed from that of the Agency. For many FBOs, providing ‘quality’ meat by ensuring carcases passed post-mortem inspection, was more important than overall plant food safety management.

Ownership of food safety

It appeared that better understanding of food safety risks by FBOs could help drive greater ownership of food safety and if the reasoning behind regulations and officials’ requests was clearly understood, this meant they could communicate food safety messages more effectively to their staff.

Mindsets

Few FBOs had a comprehensive view of food safety. In addition, because officials were always present in all slaughterhouses, food safety outcomes were highly dependent on the relationships between them, FBOs and staff. The extent of effective relationships was linked to the approach taken by officials and the attitude of the FBO.

Regulation

It was generally believed that the current regulatory regime was effective in ensuring that meat was fit for human consumption. However, many FBOs and a few officials criticised the current regime, including delivery costs and a lack of consistency regarding interpretation of regulations.

Recommendations by participants included audits to be carried out by independent inspectors and the introduction of an ‘earned recognition’ system.

The participants also said there was a need for farmers to take more responsibility for livestock hygiene and there was a need for better education for consumers regarding meat handling and storage after purchase.

However, many FBOs and a few officials criticised the current regime, including delivery costs and a lack of consistency regarding interpretation of regulations.

March 2013

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