Over the last few decades there have been significant developments in livestock and meat inspection systems in slaughterhouses. The most highly developed countries have taken the lead in bringing about these changes by enacting new legislation. These new national laws have been reflected by the Codex Alimentarius in its Codes of Good Practice and this has served to harmonise world trade in foodstuffs. The author identifies the different aspects to be considered when carrying out a veterinary inspection of animals and animal products in the slaughterhouse, bearing in mind the need to protect public and animal health. Although this article only covers cattle, many of the concepts set forth can be applied to other livestock species. Information obtained from the slaughterhouse is useful to primary production; conversely, information compiled in the primary production process makes for more efficient use of slaughterhouse resources. This information makes it possible to carry out risk-based inspections, which will gradually replace traditional procedures. Conventional inspections are often very rigid and mechanical and incapable of measuring the seriousness of hazards or of determining the probability that they will occur. Emerging biological, physical and chemical hazards, as well as new technologies, mean that we cannot become complacent about inspection procedures but must continue to be alert and to keep pace with the constant changes in food safety sciences. Another new trend is the active participation of operators, who must shoulder primary responsibility in upholding the safety of the food they produce.
Official veterinary inspection in the slaughterhouse plays several roles: the detection of animal diseases, the inspection of meat and meat products and the verification of audits carried out by the private sector. In recent years, the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis and cases of dioxin poisoning have highlighted the need for traceability of foodstuffs, i.e. giving consumers the opportunity to obtain information about the origin of their food and the different stages of its production (commonly referred to as the ‘farm-tofork’ chain). Finally, the slaughterhouse veterinarian, as a professional devoted to providing care to animals, is also responsible for ensuring animal welfare; this is an inherent part of his professional ethics.