The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently assessing post-mortem meat inspection (PMMI) tasks for a range of livestock species, in order to create a system of meat inspection which is relevant, effective and risk-based. The current PMMI procedures, which consist of visual examination, palpation and incision, have changed little in the last century. These techniques do not detect current foodborne hazards, such as salmonella and campylobacter, and may also give rise to the risk of cross -contamination.
This study aimed to assess the risks and benefits of visual inspection only during PMMI, in red meat (except pigs) and deer, where regulatory incision and palpation procedures are not carried out.
The species investigated were red meat and large game i.e. cattle, sheep, goats, wild and farmed deer. Each relevant disease or condition were assessed according to the following categories: traditional or visual-only meat inspection; and whether or not they conformed to the criteria for controlled housing (as defined in the research report).
Conditions and diseases which can only be detected by incision and palpation were identified and those relevant to public health, animal health and animal welfare were noted for further assessment.
The identified hazards were qualitatively assessed for the risk they pose to public and animal health and welfare, under conforming and non-conforming production systems. The information was gathered from databases, including VLA VetNet, industry health schemes and Agency databases. Where these did not yield sufficient evidence, any differences in prevalence between conforming and non-conforming systems were qualitatively assessed. Any diseases or conditions which had a higher incidence in non-conforming systems were taken forward for a full risk-benefit assessment, to determine if the risk increased when using visual-only PMMI.
A benefit analysis was carried out to examine the potential public health benefits that might be gained using visual-only inspection.
This research focused on a risk and benefit assessment for changing from the traditional PMMI system to visual-only procedures for cattle, sheep, goats and farmed/wild deer. Hazards were selected and matched with appropriate species. These combinations were chosen because they were sensitive to a change in risk.
The outcomes of the public health risk assessment showed that all hazards paired with species were of negligible risk, except Cysticercus bovis (C.bovis) in cattle. This was judged to be low to medium increased risk for systems which were ‘non-conforming’, as against ‘conforming’ systems, as defined in the research report with reference to the criteria laid down by EC Regulation 1244/2007. Nevertheless, absolute risk was found to be very low to low for both systems, using visual-only PMMI.
With regard to animal health and welfare, most hazards paired with species were judged to pose a potential increased risk. These included C.bovis, which showed a very low to low increase in risk, and Fasciola hepatica (F.hepatica) where risk was negligible to very low, (negligible being the lowest risk category).
Feedback to farmers is relatively assured only for bovine TB (because this is the only disease of the three under consideration that requires mandatory follow-up). As a result of low feedback rates to farmers (or action taken by farmers as a result of feedback), the real risk to animal health or welfare for F. hepatica and C. bovis , of including non-conforming systems under visual-only PMMI, is probably negligible.
Bovine TB was the only confirmed non-negligible risk for animal health and welfare but was judged as low risk. Incidents of this disease always require further investigation by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA). It was concluded that it was difficult to measure how much PMMI prevented the transmission of TB to other cattle. PMMI may play a greater role in low TB risk areas (where cattle are tested less frequently) as it may lead to the removal of cattle from infected herds earlier than the next planned test.
The benefit assessment demonstrated that more research was needed to measure the extent that contamination would be reduced, following exclusion of certain palpation and incision procedures, and whether this would have a reciprocal reduction in the risk to public health. An indirect benefit was found in using the time saved, from omitting mandatory palpations and incisions, to record conditions more accurately, and using a method that was helpful to further analysis.