CCTV footage call ignites debate

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Veterinary Public Health Association (VPHA)’s recent call for mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses and that official veterinarians (OV) to have unrestricted access to footage has divided the sector. 

The two veterinary bodies have made the call due to “urgent concerns that the purpose of CCTV in slaughterhouses is fundamentally undermined if vets are refused access to footage and the footage is not monitored independently of the slaughterhouse business operator”.

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) said the BVA’s call was deflecting from more important issues. A spokesman said: “AIMS believes there is a role for CCTV in abattoirs to improve welfare standards. However, the current obsession with making it mandatory is deflecting attention from the fundamental problem of ineffective veterinary controls in British abattoirs.

“Hearing the BVA’s call for making CCTV compulsory, anyone without knowledge of the industry would be amazed to learn that there is a veterinary surgeon permanently in every slaughterhouse with a specific responsibility to ensure the operator is complying with the welfare rules. The public would both assume and demand that the welfare of live animals was the highest, indeed the overriding, priority for that veterinarian.  

“What should concern the BVA more than anything else is that there are virtually no [clinically experienced] British veterinary surgeons working in British abattoirs, and that the vast majority of official veterinarians (OVs) have no clinical experience. They are there not for their skills, but because the regulations say there must be a veterinarian present.

“AIMS’ members have no objection to OVs sharing their real time CCTV images, but do object to OVs with a ‘prosecution hat on’, sitting in their rooms carrying out fishing expeditions on hours of old coverage. Abattoir workers must have the same legal rights as nurses, doctors and care workers in care homes or indeed other employees.

“An OV must command the respect of both operator and employee and this can only be achieved by a proper professional person of sufficient calibre, knowledge and experience. The greatest motivator of improved abattoir welfare standards would be a drastic improvement in the standard of veterinary involvement – something that BVA should be in a position to address, rather than wasting their efforts on the marginal benefits of CCTV.”

For more from AIMS on this issue, click here.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) called for clarity and engagement on the matter. A spokesperson said: “Anything other than the highest standards of animal welfare are entirely unacceptable in the abattoir sector. The BMPA has stated on a number of occasions that Closed Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV) technology can be a useful tool in helping to meet animal welfare requirements in abattoirs.

“We have always been very clear that CCTV is not a panacea that will prevent welfare incidents. We believe that the best way to safeguard animal welfare is through direct oversight by abattoir management. It is also important to remember that the OV who is permanently in every slaughterhouse has a specific responsibility to ensure that the operator is complying with the welfare rules.

“In November the BMPA, along with AIMS, issued guidance for the industry on the use of CCTV. The BMPA has no fundamental objection to sharing CCTV images with an OV, but there needs to be absolute clarity around how and by whom the footage will be used. Given the fact that guidance already exists, it would seem sensible for the BVA to engage with us in discussing how we can work together going forward.”

The RSPCA welcomed the call for access for OVs. Dr Marc Cooper, head of the RSPCA farm animal department, said: “The RSPCA wholeheartedly supports calls for CCTV cameras to be mandatory in all abattoirs and for official veterinarians to have unrestricted access to footage. The welfare of farm animals at slaughter is a very important issue, which is why all RSPCA-assured abattoirs have had CCTV since 2011. Our strict welfare standards state CCTV cameras should have a clear view and footage should be kept on-site for at least three months. Whenever an RSPCA-assured abattoir is assessed or has an on-the-spot monitoring visit, the CCTV footage is checked to ensure our standards are being met. There is little point in having CCTV if the footage is not readily available and being used effectively to safeguard animal welfare.”

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