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Good animal welfare makes economic sense: potential of pig abattoir meat inspection as a welfare surveillance tool

Sarah Harley1*, Simon More2, Laura Boyle3, Niamh O’ Connell4 and Alison Hanlon5

Author Affiliations

1 Wellcome Trust Research Scholar at UCD Veterinary Sciences Centre, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

2 Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis, UCD Centre for Epidemiology and Risk Analysis, Veterinary Sciences Centre, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

3 Senior Research Officer for Animal Behaviour and Welfare in Pig Development Department, Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Centre, Moorepark, Fermoy, Co, Cork, Ireland

4 Lecturer School of Biological Sciences, Medical Biology Centre, Queens University Belfast, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast, BT9 7BL, Northern Ireland

5 Senior Lecturer School of Veterinary Medicine, UCD Veterinary Sciences Centre, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

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Irish Veterinary Journal 2012, 65:11  doi:10.1186/2046-0481-65-11

Published: 27 June 2012


During abattoir meat inspection pig carcasses are partially or fully condemned upon detection of disease that poses a risk to public health or welfare conditions that cause animal suffering e.g. fractures. This incurs direct financial losses to producers and processors. Other health and welfare-related conditions may not result in condemnation but can necessitate ‘trimming’ of the carcass e.g. bruising, and result in financial losses to the processor. Since animal health is a component of animal welfare these represent a clear link between suboptimal pig welfare and financial losses to the pig industry.

Meat inspection data can be used to inform herd health programmes, thereby reducing the risk of injury and disease and improving production efficiency. Furthermore, meat inspection has the potential to contribute to surveillance of animal welfare. Such data could contribute to reduced losses to producers and processors through lower rates of carcass condemnations, trimming and downgrading in conjunction with higher pig welfare standards on farm. Currently meat inspection data are under-utilised in the EU, even as a means of informing herd health programmes. This includes the island of Ireland but particularly the Republic.

This review describes the current situation with regard to meat inspection regulation, method, data capture and utilisation across the EU, with special reference to the island of Ireland. It also describes the financial losses arising from poor animal welfare (and health) on farms. This review seeks to contribute to efforts to evaluate the role of meat inspection as a surveillance tool for animal welfare on-farm, using pigs as a case example.

Animal welfare; Surveillance; Meat inspection; Data recording; Pigs