Being a veterinarian is about facing life and death every day. A day in a slaughterhouse opened my eyes to the rigorous legislation and practices that go on behind the scenes.
Due to the increasing demonstrations, and tightened bio security, many vet school students are turned away when locating their compulsory abattoir placement. Therefore, as someone with animal welfare at the forefront of their life, I will share my experience.
Enforcing regulations to safeguard public health to ensure food is safe for human consumption is one of the main roles of an OVS (official veterinary surgeon). There are many rules and regulations under UK and EU laws. RSPCA welfare standards apply and the animals must be slaughtered humanely. Therefore a vet has to be on site during slaughter.
When I arrived at the abattoir, I put a boiler suit and hair net on before walking out of the office. When I was walking between buildings, it was required to put my coat on over the white boiler suit. This is to prevent food contamination. Thoroughly washing hands and wellies was very important.
The first load for slaughter were two Dexter calves as the pigs being unloaded in the side pen was not allowing the calves to remain calm. So the workers decided to take the cattle in first, this was to minimise distress, because animal welfare comes first.
Under the 96/23/EC directive, a selection of samples must be sent to the VMD every month for residue testing under the National Residues Control Plan. The vet had a final sample to take for March- a cow blood sample, so this was collected during the first slaughter of the morning. This was to test the testosterone levels. Monitoring levels in animals sent for human consumption is extremely important to police suppression times which is the period after an animal was last administered a veterinary medicine before it can be sent to an abbattoir/milk can be consumed. It is important to safeguard food with the responsible use of medicine. Use of antibiotics also results in antibiotic resistance and someone may be allergic to for example penicillin.
However, before the slaughter process, once the animals are loaded off the wagon, the correct paperwork must be presented. Animals should be correctly identified.
The vet then conducts an ante-mortem inspection to assess animal welfare, if an animal is safe for human consumption along with other things. The livestock must be clean enough to reduce the risk of meat contamination too. The animal can then be moved from lairage to slaughter.
A penetrating captive bolt was used into the skull and the calves dropped to the floor unconscious. They then rolled out of the bottom of the box and a slaughter man cut the animal’s throat which led to rapid blood loss. A hind leg was then shackled to hoist the calf up. The head was then cut off and placed on a hook to be inspected. The feet were removed and the calf was skinned. Another worker then used a large saw to cut through the brisket. The organs were removed and the meat inspector looked at the organs and carcass before stamping them. But before this, the meat inspector opened the lymph nodes in the head to look for signs of disease, for example bTB. If it had not advanced and was localised, then a region could be removed and the carcass would be safe for human consumption. All of these inspections are done as legislation outlines.
I then stood in the stunning pen whilst four pigs were stunned with a large pair of tongues which clamp either side of the brain, I saw that they were immediately unconscious. There was a 20 second time period that the pig had to hoisted up and bled out whilst they are unconscious. I saw how animal welfare was paramount, the pigs were very calm and the process lasted seconds. After they have bled out, the pigs are placed in the hot bath. Then rolled about to remove the hair, a torch is then used to burn any remaining hair off before having their testicals removed. This is to prevent any contamination with the meat. They are then butchered and the removed organs are assessed by the meat inspector. I saw how pneumonia affects the lungs of a pig which was extremely interesting as I have treated calves for pneumonia. A pig also had an abscess removed, so the leg will be butchered off.
When a wild boar came down the line, a sample of striated muscle was taken from its diaphragm for trichinella. The weanlings that came down the line also had samples taken. Trichinosis can affect humans and can lead to death if consumed in under cooked meat. If the animal is too small to provide an 11g sample, the tongue can be taken instead. Before the carcass can be butchered, the vet needs to hear back from the test for an all clear.
When more cows came down the line, a deceased cow was brought in with documentation of a farm vet of being shot on farm. Although animals should be alive when they arrive, there are exceptions, for example if an animal is unfit to travel. However, it must be butchered within 2 hours. And if it is older than 48 months, it is tested for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.