Veterinary feedback systems must be put in place, now

EU take note: in Ireland alone, the agriculture industry could gain €200 million if meat plants were equipped for veterinary feedback.

Slaney Meats, in Bunclody, Co Wexford, take a bow for being first in Ireland to record and feedback postmortem disease information to farmers, by working in conjunction with temporary veterinary inspectors.

And well done also to Veterinary Ireland (the representative body for vets) and its Chief Executive Finbarr Murphy for encouraging all stake-holders, including Animal Health Ireland and Meat Industry Ireland, to get behind this slaughterhouse feedback initiative, with a view to its nationwide rollout.

The most surprising thing, in a European Union where animal welfare is rated so highly, is that slaughterhouse feedback is not required by EU directive. Aside from the suggested financial gain and improved productivity for the agriculture industry, there’s animal welfare at stake.

At their AGM, Veterinary Ireland officials said the clinical and pathological data that veterinary inspectors could record at slaughterhouses is very valuable information for farmers. It would equip farm-ers and their vets, so that they are better informed about taking the most effective preventative and corrective actions for their herds, and it would form the basis of valuable herd health planning.

But a substantial amount of this valuable information is being lost, due to the failure to have systems in place to record and feed back this information.

Veterinary Ireland have already recommended it to Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney in a 2012 submission, which included specific proposals to attach feedback information from veterinary inspectors to the animal ID, which can be returned through factory pay slips or returns, and the ICBF database.

The submission was supported by examples of conditions such as lung lesions, liver fluke and fertility which could give rise to significant savings to agriculture, if appropriate information feedback structures were in place.

It’s a proven system, for example in pig farmer co-ops in some EU countries who own their own slaughter plants.

They see a feedback system from slaughterhouse to farm as a precondition for continuous improvement of animal health and animal welfare, and fulfilling EU requirements for food safety.

One of the EU’s biggest meat companies, Vion, offers simple and speedy feedback of slaughterhouse findings to pig farmers, via a website system. The findings give useful information about the pigs’ state of health, and form an important basis for consultations with the veterinary practitioner or with the advisory body for promotion of pig health.

Such a feedback system is a prerequisite for organic livestock farmers, who need feedback from the slaughterhouse on the condition of lungs and livers, if they are to control animal parasites without using animal medicines.

Veterinary inspectors in slaughterhouses are already the main line of defence to identify the emergence of dangerous diseases such as BSE.

The 2001 foot and mouth epidemic in the UK was first detected by an official veterinarian carrying out ante-mortem inspection.

Across the EU, veterinary inspectors are also providing vital detective work in the fight against animal disease.

In Wales, the presence of hydatid cysts in sheep viscera is utilised by the public health agencies to identify farm dogs which require treatment for worms.

In Sweden, cattle tapeworm cysts are very rare. Detection at post-mortem inspection at the slaughterhouse was traced back to a pasture contaminated by campers, allowing preventative measures to be implemented.

In the UK, measures to control sheep scab include reporting slaughterhouse findings to farmer, in order that this significant animal health and welfare issue can be addressed.

In Denmark, specific incidences of pneumonia identified at post-mortem in pigs, and the correct samples for laboratory investigation are collected. This essential data is fed back to the farmer and his vet.

In Ireland’s huge livestock industry, veterinary feedback should be put in place without delay.

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