Review of official meat controls

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is reviewing the current system of meat hygiene inspection in slaughterhouses. Meat controls are currently based on a traditional inspection approach developed more than 100 years ago to tackle the public health concerns of that era, such as parasites and defects visible to the naked eye. Today, the main cause of foodborne disease is microbiological.

Microbiological threats – the bacteria campylobacter, salmonella and E.coli, for example – cannot be adequately tackled using traditional inspection methods.

About the review

In September 2009, the FSA Board endorsed a programme of work that outlined the future steps that will be taken to deliver an enhanced system of official controls on meat. More information about these steps can be found in the FSA Board paper at the link towards the end of this page.

The review aims to improve public health protection while delivering a more risk-based, effective and proportionate system for official controls on meat. A new inspection regime will take account of animal health and welfare considerations.

Official controls on meat are prescribed by directly applicable European legislation. Any changes to controls have to be negotiated with other EU Member States and the European Commission. This is a lengthy process. Changes to pig inspection are likely to come into force in 2014, but amendments to other species are not expected before 2015 at the earliest.

Modernising meat hygiene inspection is a strategic priority for the Agency. The Agency’s Strategy to 2015 can be found at the link towards the end of this page.

Building the evidence

In November 2009, the Agency set up a research programme to challenge the scientific basis for the current system and gather the evidence necessary to support any case for change. The first tranche of research was published in September 2011. The second tranche was published in February 2013. Our research findings have been independently evaluated by international experts. Please see below for further information and links to the published reports.

The outcomes of the Agency’s research are being used to inform the work the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is undertaking in this area (to find out more about this work, please see the ‘Work across Europe’ section further down the page).

More information about the research can be found at the links below.

Research portfolio: first tranche

Our first tranche of research into the modernisation of meat controls is composed of the following five projects:

Review of historical ante mortem and post mortem inspection data
The objective of this research was to determine the critical and optimum data for cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep, goats and game species that should be collected to monitor current and most relevant public health, animal health and welfare conditions.

Comparison of post mortem inspection findings of outdoor and indoor fattening pigs: a qualitative risk assessment approach
The objective of this research was to examine the risks to public health, animal health and animal welfare posed by visual inspection of outdoor fattening pigs in relation to visual inspection of indoor fattening pigs.

Outcomes and value of current ante mortem and post mortem meat inspection tasks, and qualitative assessment of the benefit to public and animal health of post mortem inspection of green offal in red species
The objectives of this research were:

  • to establish the effectiveness of inspection tasks as described in Regulation (EC) 854/2004 in dealing with a range of significant hazards
  • to assess the risk of removing or amending the requirement for green offal inspection for red meat animal species

Assessment of the risk of official veterinarians (OVs) not being present when plant inspection assistants (PIAs) carry out post mortem poultry inspection
The objective of this research was to assess the risk to public health, animal health and animal welfare of amending the requirement that OVs must be present when PIAs carry out post mortem poultry inspection.

Assessment of the risk of an official auxiliary (rather than an official veterinarian) performing ante mortem inspections for poultry and young/prime red meat species
The objective of this research was to assess the risk to public health, animal health and animal welfare of Official Auxiliaries undertaking ante mortem inspection duties for poultry and young/prime red meat species.

More information about the research and its findings can be found via the links below.

Research portfolio: second tranche

The second phase of research is composed of the following five projects.

Review of Food Chain Information and Collection and Communication of Inspection Results for all species
The objective of this research was to evaluate the implementation of Food Chain Information (FCI) and Communication Collection and Communication of Inspection (CCIR) results for all species, with a view to identifying potential changes that would support an improved system of meat controls.

Qualitative risk assessment of visual inspection of red meat species (other than pigs) and wild/farmed deer
The aim of the project was to measure qualitatively the effectiveness of visual inspection versus traditional meat inspection. The research looks at which conditions, which are relevant to public health, animal health and welfare, would not be identified should visual inspection be carried out instead of traditional inspection and if this represents a risk to public health, animal health and animal welfare.

Trial of visual inspection of fattening pigs from non-controlled housing conditions
The objective of the research was to test the findings of the risk assessment carried out as part of the first phase of research ('Comparison of post mortem inspection findings of outdoor and indoor fattening pigs: a qualitative risk assessment approach'), and to gather data to evaluate whether visual inspection of fattening pigs can be extended to fattening pigs from non-controlled housing conditions. The research also looks at microbiological cross-contamination due to handling of carcasses by official.

Social science research in the slaughterhouse environment
The objective of the research was to better understand the social processes in place within slaughterhouses to gain insight into the potential impact of regulatory reform.

Feasibility study of a plant inspection assistant inspection model in approved game handling establishments (to be published in autumn 2013)
The aim of this research is to assess whether the use of Plant Inspection Assistants in approved game handling could represent a risk to public health, animal health and welfare and that whether this is a feasible model of inspection.

More information about the research and its findings can be found via the links below.

Consumer research

During 2010, the Agency organised a series of 'Citizens’ Forums' with consumers to ask for their views on current and future meat hygiene controls. These took place in Aberdeen, Belfast, Cardiff, London and York. It was found that:

  • consumers expect themselves, retailers and food outlets to monitor safety in the first instance, and have little awareness of the current system of controls
  • on being told more about the current system of controls, consumers were reassured by what they learnt
  • consumers also welcomed the principle of shifting the responsibility for compliance further onto the industry to improve standards
  • there was initial scepticism about potential changes, though there was a range of views on the options tested and some participants were more in favour of reform than others

More information about the Citizens’ Forums can be found at the link below.

Work across Europe

In July 2009, the European Commission's published a report on the experience gained from the implementation of the hygiene regulations in 2006. The report stated that the overall experience of the food hygiene package was positive and that there was no need for a fundamental overhaul.

Subsequently, the Council of the EU adopted the Commission conclusions on the report and invited the Commission to prepare concrete proposals allowing the effective implementation of modernised sanitary inspection in slaughterhouses.

The Commission started discussions in 2010 on potential changes to official meat controls in slaughterhouses. In order to inform the review, three round-table meetings were held with Member States, European stakeholders and international trading partners.

In May 2010, the Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to carry out risk assessments on current meat controls and recommend alternative approaches to inspection. EFSA’s work was prioritised by species and its scientific advice (this advice is also known as opinions) on pig inspection was published in October 2011,and on poultry in June 2012. A further opinion on the remainder species is expected by summer 2013. More information about the EFSA mandate and its opinions on meat inspection can be found at the link below.

Negotiations with member states and the Commission on amendments to pig inspection are currently taking place in Brussels. Legislative proposals for changes to poultry inspection are expected by summer 2013 and for the remainder species in early 2014. More information about EU negotiations can be found via the 'Consulting on rapidly developing policy' link below, and on the European Commission website via the 'Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH)' link above right.

Current and Future Meat Controls Stakeholder Group (CFMC)

The CFMC is the core group of key meat stakeholders whose main purpose is to inform the Agency's work in developing proposals for more risk-based and proportionate meat hygiene.

The Agency regularly seeks the views of the CFMC in relation to the modernisation of meat controls and updates stakeholders on the progress of the future meat controls programme.

More information about the group and its discussions can be found at the link below.