Quality, not frequency

Stephen K Lomax, BVSc, MRCVS, Barrister

I cannot let Steve McGrath's comments concerning what I am reported as saying in the 18 December edition of MTJ go unanswered. I, too, was surprised to read that I had told MTJ that the welfare contraventions at our members' premises were merely a technical issue. Suffering was undoubtedly involved in some of the contraventions recorded and if I had given the impression that it wasn't, the fault must be mine for being imprecise.

However, I was entirely accurately reported on the question of the presence of officials. When I suggested that "OVs should be removed from the process", I was not calling for their complete removal at present. Audit of operators' controls by the competent authority is essential and the regulations currently restrict such audits to veterinary surgeons.

But I still have a problem with understanding how, when all the contraventions listed by Mr McGrath were taking place, they were not picked up by the permanent presence of the MHS. A member of the general public would rightly expect the perma-nent presence of a veterinarian and MHIs in an abattoir to provide the highest possible protection for animal welfare, which the presence of MHS OVs conspicuously did not. However, if permanent supervision does not work, as Mr McGrath seems to agree, then surely the system needs changing to take account of the views expressed by Professor Pennington at the last AIMS conference. Professor Pennington said that it is not the weight or frequency of controls that matters, it is the quality.

Tim Smith, in his interview in the same edition of MTJ, says that the meat industry has grown up more slowly than he would have liked, and suggests the reasons are historical. I agree with both his points, but would suggest the key reason for what he calls "lack of maturity" might be the permanent presence of the MHS. The introduction of HACCP should have been instrumental in transferring responsibility from the OV to the operator, but many OVs have just not been able to resist prescribing the controls. The analogy with parents' nannying children is obvious perhaps the industry needs a new "parent" that encourages it to take ultimate responsibility. We hope that, when Tim takes the MHS under his wing in April, this will happen.

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