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Debate about vets' role in meat hygiene gets confused by considering the inspection and audit functions together when they should really be considered separately, says Kenneth Clarke
THE article on modernisation of meat inspection by Robert Huey (VR, January 21, 2012, vol 170, pp 68–70) and the polarised views subsequently expressed by Peter Hewson (VR, February 18, 2012, vol 170, p 186) and Bill Cashman (VR, March 10, 2012, vol 170, p 266) are indicative of the complexity of the on-going debate about the role of vets in meat hygiene specifically and in food safety in general. I believe this debate is confused by the conflation of the two main duties that legislation places on veterinarians, namely inspection and audit, and that rational analysis requires these to be considered separately.
The historical role of vets in abattoirs in ante- and postmortem inspection has, in effect, been one of end-product testing for public health purposes. There is now general agreement that these procedures are out-dated and do not address the meatborne microbiological hazards of current concern, and it is tempting to dismiss postmortem inspection as ‘in reality, quality control with little public health benefits’, as suggested by Peter Hewson. But there remains an important role for ante- and postmortem inspection: to monitor the controls on both public and animal health, applied throughout the entire production chain, that the modern, ‘farm-to-fork’ approach to food safety requires, and to record and communicate the results along the chain. Since most food animals (other than those that die or are killed on farm) are slaughtered for human consumption, abattoirs are significant pinch points in animal production where surveillance for disease and welfare can be efficiently carried out.
‘There is a …