The European Commission is looking at revising rules for checks on meat and shellfish.
Ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections could be performed under the responsibility of the official veterinarians instead of being done or supervised by them. Official controls may also be undertaken by other staff picked by competent authorities in cutting plants.
Official controls are carried out by national authorities and ensure companies comply with rules that concern food and feed law, animal health and welfare, plant health, and plant protection products. Official Controls Regulation (EU) 2017/625 went into effect in April 2017 and replaced Regulation (EC) No 882/2004. Rules will gradually become applicable with the main compliance date being Dec. 14, 2019.
The draft regulation supplements the rules related to production of meat and live bivalve mollusks. A public comment period on the changes is open until Oct. 25.
Commenting on the draft act, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) said inspection of live animals before slaughter should always be done by qualified official veterinarians as it is crucial for detecting and preventing spread of contagious diseases and checks after the animal is slaughtered should only be delegated to assisting staff when they are sufficiently trained and under supervision of the official veterinarian.
Meat inspections are done by an official veterinarian. The draft regulation fixes criteria for certain tasks of such inspections in slaughterhouses and official controls in game-handling sites and cutting plants, to be carried out by official auxiliaries or staff designated by the competent authorities under supervision or responsibility of the official veterinarian, who does not need to be present.
The Commission said these plans mostly reflect current practices and rules in Regulation (EU) 2017/625.
Each official veterinarian must undergo practical training for a probationary period of at least 200 hours before working independently. Official auxiliaries or staff chosen by the authorities must have at least 500 hours of training including 400 hours of practical training under the supervision of an official veterinarian.
Certain routine tasks within ante-mortem inspection in slaughterhouses might be carried out by an official auxiliary, according to the proposed changes.
“In particular, if ante-mortem inspection has been carried out by the official veterinarian at the holding of provenance, more flexibility should be given to the ante-mortem inspection at arrival in the slaughterhouse which might be carried out under the responsibility of the official veterinarian,” states the draft regulation.
They also cover ante-mortem inspection outside the slaughterhouse in the event of emergency slaughter and at the holding of provenance instead of the slaughterhouse.
Proposals state the official veterinarian must be immediately informed by the auxiliary doing an inspection when possible abnormalities are observed or suspected and they then carry out the ante-mortem inspection in person.
Industry association responses
The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe said it was “concerned” the revision will be misused as an opportunity to save money rather than to strengthen quality of the food chain which would create “unnecessary risks” for food safety.
“The ongoing competition based on low pricing of food of animal origin is of detrimental effect on the way animals are kept and treated, decreases consumers awareness about the high value of food of animal origin and increases of food waste,” said the organization that represents about 240,000 veterinarians.
“In light of the several animal disease outbreaks in Europe (African swine fever, tuberculosis), food frauds (illegally treated animals) and the frequent occurrence of food or feed risks (Campylobacter, Salmonella), FVE calls upon the EU institutions to strengthen the consumer protection and the position of the veterinarian in the official controls.”
FVE wants national governments to put in place resources to allow authorities and official veterinarians to fulfill their responsibilities of audit, inspection and enforcement and official controls to be done by adequate numbers of properly qualified and authorized official veterinarians.
The European Rural Poultry Association (ERPA) said the permanent presence of official veterinarians in slaughterhouses is a “very important obstacle” to the development of small and medium slaughterhouses. But, the association also said costs are passed on to slaughterhouse customers.
“Indeed, this could disturb the functioning of small slaughterhouses because of the low availability of official veterinarians and the expensive costs that the controls represent. For example in Belgium, for slaughtering 300 poultry a day, half of the price charged to the customer is related to the presence of the veterinarian for the ante and post-mortem inspections,” the poultry association said in its comments.
The ERPA said it had seen illegal slaughtering is developing and can reach large volumes, without supervision on hygiene, animal welfare or working conditions in countries where creating small and medium slaughterhouses is impossible.
“To avoid this, we ask for flexibility regarding the daily presence of official veterinarians in slaughterhouses, in order to favor the emergence of small and medium slaughterhouses. We believe that this is possible without increasing health risks, in particular with a specific training of the slaughterhouse staff, to guarantee a good sanitary management of poultry,” ERPA said.
Authorities must currently classify production and relaying areas where live bivalve mollusks are harvested. The draft regulation lists conditions under which these areas of Pectinidae, marine gastropods and Holothuridea are not to be classified. Such conditions should include data from official monitoring programs on fishing grounds, according to the proposed changes.
Classification of production and relaying areas is not required when authorities carry out official controls on such animals in fish auctions, dispatch centers and processing establishments.
The proposed regulation also covers official controls for the production of meat from reindeer and grouse to continue local and traditional practices already favorably assessed by the Commission and member states.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)