Food chain information: cattle/calves, sheep and goats (Northern Ireland)

Guidance and model forms to help food businesses in Northern Ireland comply with EU food hygiene legislation requiring slaughterhouse operators to 'request, receive, check and act upon' food chain information (FCI) for all cattle, sheep and goats sent for slaughter for human consumption.

This requirement forms part of the whole chain, farm-to-fork approach to food safety introduced by the Hygiene Regulations from the beginning of 2006. FCI has been progressively implemented for the food animal species – poultry in 2006, pigs in 2008, calves and horses in 2009, cattle, sheep and goats in 2010.

FCI contributes to slaughterhouse operators’ HACCP-based food safety management systems by providing information about animals procured for slaughter. Many FBOs will already require much of this information from their livestock suppliers as part of their commercial relations with them, and may have little more to do to comply.

FCI is used by DARD VPHU to aid decisions about meat and may be used to determine inspection procedures for animals and groups of animals.

Contents of Food Chain Information

The Food Standards Agency (FSA), being the Competent Authority, is required to inform food business operators of the ‘minimum elements’ of FCI which must be provided, and has consulted with a range of stakeholders to determine these minimum elements, which are included in form of model documents in Annexes A and B at the links below. The minimum elements have been developed with the aim of ensuring that FCI is restricted to information that can be used directly by the operator or DARD VPHU staff at the slaughterhouse.

The minimum elements should be taken as a minimum requirement for the information that slaughterhouse operators must receive – ultimately it is for operators to request the information they require from suppliers for their own food safety management purposes.

Additional information will be required for animals when there is relevant information to report. This information may be supplied using the format on the second page of the model document within Annexe A that can be accessed via the link below.

Format of Food Chain Information

Legislation does not stipulate how slaughterhouse operators should receive FCI. Operators should select a format that best suits their business. The model documents, which can be found at the links below, may be used or customised for their own use by slaughterhouse operators; the minimum elements may be incorporated into companies’ own documentation (e.g. existing supplier declarations). It is the responsibility of slaughterhouse operators to inform their suppliers about the exact FCI they require and of the form in which they wish to receive it.

FCI will also be required for animals presented at livestock markets which may go directly for slaughter. It is the responsibility of operators of livestock markets to request FCI for animals that fall into this category. The operator of the livestock market must forward FCI to the receiving slaughterhouse. This may be achieved through the use of a composite declaration which can be referenced to movement documents, an example of which can be found within Annexe B, which can be accessed via the link below.

Time of receipt of Food Chain Information

FCI may be provided before the animals arrive or may accompany them to the slaughterhouse. Ideally FCI should be received before animals arrive at the slaughterhouse, but in many cases this will be impractical, particularly for cattle and sheep purchased through livestock markets. In the case of any information that may disrupt the normal operation of the slaughterhouse, suppliers must be advised to provide FCI in good time before the animals arrive.

If animals arrive at the slaughterhouse without FCI, the slaughterhouse operator must immediately notify the Official Veterinarian (OV). Slaughter may not take place until the OV permits. The carcases of animals slaughtered without FCI will not be approved for human consumption until the FCI for the animals is received. Any animals arriving without FCI will, at least, cause disruption to the normal operation of the slaughterhouse – it is in slaughterhouse operators’ interests to ensure that they comply with the FCI requirements from 1 January 2010 and that livestock suppliers are aware that FCI must be provided before animals arrive or must accompany them.

Actions on receipt of Food Chain Information

Legislation requires slaughterhouse operators to ‘check and act upon’ food chain information. Operators should use FCI to inform their HACCP-based food safety management systems and to make decisions about accepting animals and any special processing arrangements e.g. slaughter at the end of a batch, additional dressing requirements, reduced line speed.

Once the operator has accepted the animals for slaughter he or she must make the FCI available to the OV. The OV must be notified of any concerns about the health of animals before ante-mortem inspection.