AIMS issues response to CCTV calls from BVA and VPHA

The recent call from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Veterinary Public Health Association (VPHA)’s for mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses, and that official veterinarians (OV) should have unrestricted access to footage, has sparked debate within the industry. 

Speaking to Meat Trades Journal, trade body the Association of Independent Suppliers (AIMS) has issued a detailed response to the issue.

An AIMS 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, known as an OV, permanently in every slaughterhouse with a specific responsibility to ensure that the operator is complying with the welfare rules. If the public knew, they would both assume and demand that the welfare of live animals was the highest, indeed the overriding, priority for that veterinarian. As it is, ante- and post-mortem inspection, hygiene and SRM controls and the completion of unnecessary paperwork appear to take priority. None of these contribute significantly to protecting public health. Food poisoning is caused by bacteria carried by healthy animals and the visual meat inspection system used by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which assumes meat free from visible contamination is safe, is not soundly based. Visible contamination is unacceptable, but there is no correlation between visible contamination and the presence of pathogens. As for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the risk from cattle has long gone and there never was a risk from sheep. Unnecessary paperwork has long been in the sights of government, but the message does not appear to have reached York.

“The OV may have to carry out inspection tasks, because that is what the legislation requires. However, there is no excuse for OVs carrying out daily hygiene and SRM checks, which are the responsibility of the operator, or completing paperwork that is just going to be filed, when they could regularly be present at the point of slaughter, providing not just enforcement, but advice, training and praise for good practice.

“Animal welfare in an abattoir is the responsibility of the plant operator and any food business operator (FBO) which relies on their OV is very foolish. Nevertheless, it is disgraceful that the operator of the Norfolk abattoir, where appalling behaviour was clandestinely filmed, was paying for full-time veterinary attendance, which failed to detect totally unacceptable practices taking place apparently daily. What should concern the BVA more than anything else is that there are virtually no British veterinary surgeons working in British abattoirs, and that the vast majority of OVs have never worked in veterinary practice and have no clinical experience. They are there not for their skills, but because the regulations say there must be a veterinarian present. No other country in Europe implements the regulations so blindly without considering the consequences. France, for instance, only employs its own nationals; there are not enough to go round, but it is considered better to use fewer experienced staff than an army of unskilled staff. France has never had permanent OVs in its poultry slaughterhouses and never will.

“Continuous veterinary attendance is no longer a requirement of EC legislation and the requirement for OVs to supervise hygiene ceased in 2006. The UK system of veterinary attendance in our abattoirs is dysfunctional and, at a cost of over £50 million a year, is poor value for money for both industry and the taxpayer. The French model is instructive. We need experienced British veterinary graduates as OVs in our abattoirs, mature and experienced farm animal practitioners, who should be paid at professional rates, not the living wage. They should not be permanently stationed at a single abattoir, but make unannounced visits to a cluster of abattoirs. As in France, the ante-mortem inspection of healthy animals without abnormalities should be left to trained meat hygiene inspectors.

“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 rights under the law as nurses, doctors and care workers in care homes or any other employee in any other business.

“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 the BVA should be in a position to address, rather than wasting their efforts on the marginal benefits of CCTV.”

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