Remote meat control in slaughter and game handling

The Swedish Food Agency (SFA) is working on developments in meat inspection. Our goal is to create a legal framework for carrying out inspections in slaughter and game handling at a distance at the European Union level. On this page, you can read more about the Remote Meat Control project.

An official veterinarian (OV) from the SFA inspects all domestic animals slaughtered in commercial slaughterhouses on site both before and after slaughter. Wild game are inspected after slaughter. In some cases, an official auxiliary can perform inspection after slaughter (OA).

Remote meat control means that the OV inspects the animal before slaughter and the carcass with organs after slaughter using a mobile phone. The slaughterhouse's employees, specially trained for this purpose, convey images and sounds in real time to the OV, who does not need to be on site at the slaughterhouse or the game handling establishment (GHE). The OV instructs the slaughterhouse staff via mobile phone about the practical steps in the inspection of the animal before slaughter as well as the inspection of the carcass and organs after slaughter or game handling.

In order for control to be performed using digital technology, changes in the regulations at the European Union level are required. The results of the Remote Meat Control project can be used to achieve the changes needed in that legislation.

Background to the project

The majority of Sweden's slaughterhouses and GHEs are small and process less than 1,000 tonnes per year. These smaller companies conduct their business only during certain periods of the year, and often only a few days a week depending on, among other things, the availability of animals, weather conditions, permitted hunting times, and demand from customers. Therefore, many of the companies find it difficult to anticipate and plan their activities, which in turn affects the foresight they may have regarding the current need for an OV’s presence.

The control personnel's trips to and from facilities are many and often long. The difficulty of planning in some cases involves short notice from the companies. The travelling affects the environment and creates a situation where the SFA may find it difficult to conduct cost-effective control. The control can be difficult to adapt in time to the needs for control, hamper the flow needed and can become expensive for the companies, which can have a negative effect on their operations.

According to current regulations, the OV must be present at the slaughterhouse or GHE in order to carry out the practical steps of the inspection. The inspection can, under certain conditions, be carried out by an OA. Therefore, before remote control can be introduced EU rules need to be changed.

Possible benefits of remote control

Easier to meet needs at short notice

Small abattoirs and GHEs often need inspection at short notice, which the SFA may have difficulties in planning. With remote control through digital technology, companies would be given better opportunities to be able to gain control at short notice. This applies not least to abattoirs in sparsely populated areas where the travel time for control staff today is often long.

A tool for achieving the goals of Agenda 2030

The development of remote control will contribute to meeting the climate and sustainability goals in the international program called Agenda 2030. Part of this work requires developing control into a more environmentally sustainable business. Reduced travel back and forth to abattoirs and GHEs reduces the impact on the environment.

Better planning and working environment for employees at the SFA

With remote control, the SFA could plan its staffing better, not least in times of low staffing, for example, in the event of illness. In addition, less professional working time would be spent on transportation. An improved working environment for the control staff in the form of reduced travel time by car is another advantage.

Better equivalence in control

Digital technologies make it easier for teaching and calibration och control. The goal is to work continuously for getting the SFA’s control staff to perform controls in a uniform way.

The Swedish Food Agency as a driving competent authority

The SFA is convinced that there are motives to work for the EU rules to be developed so that remote meat control becomes possible. Sweden has already taken such initiatives. Development of control with the help of digital tools is ongoing in several different places in the world, including in Sweden, and the SFA is a leading governmental agency in this respect.

Study of methods for digital inspection after slaughter

The SFA initiated and financed a study that developed and tested a method for inspection after slaughter with the help of digital imaging and sound transmission. The study conducted by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) showed that:

  • PMI of pigs can be performed using a standard smart mobile phone of good quality mounted on the back of the hand.
  • Approximately 2–3 Mbit/s bandwidth is required for the technology to work.
  • The technology is reliable when inspecting after slaughter and is about as good as on-site inspection.
  • The technology does not appear to affect the probability of registering changes in the carcass and associated organs during PMIs.
  • No clear negative consequences for food safety, animal health, or animal welfare could be demonstrated when the technology was used in PMIs.

How the work will continue

Between 2021 and 2023, the SFA is working to develop a model for remote control in slaughter and game handling. The model will create an overall picture of where, when, and how remote control can be used while maintaining food safety, animal health and animal protection. In addition, the system must be financially defensible.

More testing on-site is now performed in different small abattoirs in the country. There is also a project studying attitudes to remote meat control amongst OVs, heads of the control, abattoirs, and GHEs. Co-operations are done together with SLU and the Research Institutes of Sweden (rise.se).

Scientific publications

In order to be able to influence the development of EU legislation, information and results about the work need to be disseminated in several ways, including through scientific publications. When the European Commission works as a risk manager, it turns to its risk-assessing sister authority the EFSA (European Food Safety Agency) to obtain scientific support. The EFSA does its work by studying published scientific literature. Therefore, it is of great importance that all work that is done is published regularly.

Co-operation with the Nordic countries

In the autumn of 2021, the SFA and SLU organized a digital conference for the Nordic countries' competent control authorities. Modernization of meat control was one of the key issues.

After the conference, a group was formed with representatives from the various Nordic countries. The group's purpose is to work together and to discuss strategies and concretely plan studies with digital tools in the control before and after slaughter and game handling. It is favourable that communication with other Member States and the Commission is done together. Creating understanding within the EU is a prerequisite for being able to develop the digitalisation of control.

Co-operation for developing Risk based meat safety assurance system

Sweden is represented in Cost-Action Risk based meat inspection system (RIBMINS) via SLU. Swedish delegates are today Ivar Vågsholm, professor and Arja Helena Kautto, DVM, both specialists in veterinary public health.

Many different countries, around the world, are working together in smaller workings groups. More information that is general concerning the ambition of development can be seen in www.cost.eu and specific information of meat inspection development can be seen in www.ribmins.com

Grate digital developing projects are going on using different kind of digital technics and focusing on different problematics in meat safety. Some of the projects are going on in Denmark (www.vetvision.dk), Norway (www.mattillsynet with digital food chain information, www.animalia.no many projects), Italy (www.farm4trade.com).

Sweden and SFA was invited as key-note speaker last RIBMNS Conference in April in Cordoba. More information of the conference can be seen in www.ribmins.com/news .

Further work within the EU

The results of various projects are going to be published regularly and presented in line with Article 6 of (EU) 2019/627 with regard to informing the Commission and other Member States. This is the basis for any further work at the EU level, such as changes in EU legislation or continued research projects. The work at the EU level is represented by the government, and the SFA assists the government in this work within its area of ​​responsibility.

Projects

Reviewed 2022-05-05