The Agency provides verification, audit, and meat inspection services in approved fresh meat premises. These tasks include:
Ante-mortem (before death) inspection
Livestock and poultry delivered to abattoirs are all inspected by the FSA before slaughter. Ante-mortem inspection is performed by the Official Veterinarian (OV), who will check for any signs of disease, injury, fatigue, stress and mishandling.
Only clean, dry animals may progress to slaughter, ensuring that the risk of contamination of the resulting meat is reduced as far as possible.
Animal welfare at slaughter
The monitoring of the actual slaughter process itself enables FSA operational staff to ensure that welfare at slaughter is maintained to the highest standards. Checks are made on the positioning of stunning equipment, the effectiveness of the stun and the efficiency of bleeding, so that the risk of any animal suffering during the process is minimised. The FSA licenses slaughterers and enforces legislation relating to animal welfare at slaughter on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland.
Every carcass is inspected after slaughter to ensure fitness for human consumption. This is largely the responsibility of the teams of Meat Hygiene Inspectors working under the supervision of the OV, but may be carried out by the OV in some circumstances. Each carcass is carefully inspected and accepted, or rejected, as appropriate. Carcases that are fit for human consumption are health marked.
Hygiene at slaughter and cutting
The FSA is responsible for ensuring that the slaughter and dressing process is conducted by the Food Business Operator (FBO) in accordance with the legislative requirements, and that meat is produced by the FBO in a hygienic manner. This requires attention to temperature controls, working practices, and the general upkeep (cleaning and maintenance) of the premises.
Animal by-products and specified risk material
FSA operational staff check on the appropriate disposal by the FBO of animal by-products, to ensure that they are stained, stored, and dispatched according to the relevant legislation. Animal by-products include parts of the carcass that are not intended for human consumption (such as skin or feathers) or have been rejected as unfit by FSA operational staff. By-products are categorised broadly according to the degree of risk they could present to human and animal health, and are used or disposed of accordingly. Particular attention is paid to the removal, staining and disposal of specified risk material (SRM) – those parts of cattle and sheep that are most likely to contain BSE infectivity – to ensure that the consumer is fully protected.
If meat is not produced in accordance with the relevant regulations, FSA operational staff take proportionate enforcement action, which may include informal action, serving notices, or referrals for investigation or withdrawal or suspension of approval. When carrying out any enforcement activity the FSA acts in accordance with the Manual for Official Controls (MOC) enforcement policy and operational instructions, as well as the Government's Enforcement Concordat.
The FSA is well placed to facilitate testing and surveillance on behalf of other Government departments and agencies. It conducts this work under formal Service Level Agreements. Work currently being undertaken includes collection of samples for statutory veterinary medicines residue testing and the collection of samples to test for campylobacter on behalf of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). The collection of samples for Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) testing, TB, Aujeszky’s disease and EBL on behalf of Defra. The FSA also carries out Trichinella testing where this is required for certain animal species such as horses and pigs.
FSA operational staff in red meat abattoirs check cattle passports and ear tags to ensure that animals presented for slaughter for human consumption have been correctly identified. Pre-slaughter checks are the responsibility of the FBO. Cattle passports are stamped by FSA operational staff and sent to the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS), where details of the animal are entered onto the Cattle Tracing System (CTS).