Slaughterhouse social science project

Last updated:
7 March 2013
The aim of this research was to better understand the social processes in place within slaughterhouses to gain insight into the potential impact of regulatory reform.
Study duration: January 2012 to November 2012
Project code: FS145004
Contractor: Ipsos MORI

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Official controls have developed over many decades. These were originally designed to manage hazards that were characterised by pathological changes, largely detectable by visual inspection.

It is important that the Agency ensures that official controls are risk based, proportionate, targeted and cost effective. This project aimed to improve and deepen our understanding of those involved in the delivery of official controls in the slaughterhouse environment.

Research Approach

The project aimed to deliver a better understanding of:

  • the drivers and barriers that help or hinder food business organisations taking full responsibility for food safety (in the context of building a greater holistic understanding of food business organisations food safety behaviours)
  • the drivers and barriers that help or hinder veterinarians and meat hygiene inspectors to undertake effective enforcement action (in the context of building a greater holistic understanding of enforcers’ behaviours)

This evaluation included:

  • a scoping stage to identify existing evidence.
  • key informant interviews to help inform subsequent stages of the research.
  • case studies, consisting of two-day visits when researchers will conduct a range of interviews and observation within 24 slaughterhouses.

The findings of this study will inform proposals for changes to the official controls in slaughterhouses and help to ensure that proposed changes to the current system are based on a knowledge of the ‘on the ground’ situation.


The main findings were as follows.
Officials were concerned with protecting consumers. Official Veterinarians (OVs) saw their role as safeguarding the public, animal health and welfare by ensuring compliance with slaughterhouse regulations, while the Official Auxiliary’s role was to ensure that meat was fit for human consumption. Food business operators (FBOs) felt that providing quality meat to retailers was their primary role, while slaughterhouse staff remained focused on carrying out their allotted tasks.
Food safety
FBOs held different interpretations of their food safety obligations and often their understanding differed from that of the Agency. For many FBOs, providing ‘quality’ meat by ensuring carcases passed post-mortem inspection, was more important than overall plant food safety management.
Ownership of food safety
It appeared that better understanding of food safety risks by FBOs could help drive greater ownership of food safety and if the reasoning behind regulations and officials’ requests was clearly understood, this meant they could communicate food safety messages more effectively to their staff.
Few FBOs had a comprehensive view of food safety. In addition, because officials were always present in all slaughterhouses, food safety outcomes were highly dependent on the relationships between them, FBOs and staff. The extent of effective relationships was linked to the approach taken by officials and the attitude of the FBO.
It was generally believed that the current regulatory regime was effective in ensuring that meat was fit for human consumption. However, many FBOs and a few officials criticised the current regime, including delivery costs and a lack of consistency regarding interpretation of regulations.
Recommendations by participants
These included:

  • audits to be carried out by independent inspectors
  • the introduction of an ‘earned recognition’ system
  • the need for farmers to take more responsibility for livestock hygiene
  • better education for consumers regarding meat handling and storage after purchase