Jennifer Hall, a final-year student at Nottingham vet school, was nervous about visiting a slaughterhouse, but, as she records in her diary for Vet Record Careers, having done so, she is content that the slaughter process is well regulated
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At Nottingham, the traditional ‘abattoir’ EMS is taught for two weeks as a rotation, which covers various aspects of veterinary public health. I have to be honest: I was expecting it to be one of those rotations that you just have to do. How wrong I was.
We visited two slaughterhouses – one private and one commercial – as well as a cheese factory, a livestock market and a poultry slaughterhouse. We also spent a day learning about beekeeping, and had a session on zoonotic diseases.
In spite of our fourth-year lectures on veterinary public health, I had not appreciated the major role that vets play in food production industries. Seeing it for real brought the lectures to life, and I realised for the first time why it is part of the vet school curriculum. Although vets in the UK do not have as big a role in public health as those in Europe, the fact that we have to comply with EU directives and standards for animal health, welfare and trading makes me feel that every vet has a responsibility to have some understanding of the subject.
Of particular interest to me this week has been the time spent learning about meat production. I've spent a lot of time on farm animal EMS, but I had never been in a commercial slaughterhouse. I was keen to find out what happened once animals left the farm to go for slaughter. Given the recent drive for traceability in the food industry, I felt I should know what happened between farm and fork!
The visit was led by our lecturer from the vet school, which meant that we were given a step-by-step explanation of the process. I was quite nervous about seeing cows being stunned, as I had never seen this done. Having watched it, I was reassured that the animals did not suffer, and that they were not traumatised before slaughter – the operators were very efficient and well practised. We watched as the animals were shackled and bled, which occurred (every time) within 15 seconds. In fact, having visited a livestock market, I thought that environment was probably more stressful for the animals than being kept in lairage and going to slaughter.
Following on from the slaughter, we watched the preparation of the carcase. We were shown how the operators had to ensure that the outside of the hide did not come into contact with the carcase, and the measures that were taken to prevent contamination by faecal matter and gut contents.
The men had a very efficient chain of work – each had their own task to ensure nothing was missed as the animals went along the production line. Once the carcases were dressed and ready to be hung, they were awarded a grading and labelled with the carcase identification by the Meat Hygiene Inspectors. This is done so that the meat can be traced back to its source.
I can now honestly say that I have every faith in the safety of the meat I eat – safe in the assurance that the slaughter process is stress-free, clean and well regulated. If only the public could appreciate this too.
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