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Abattoir sampling as a source of data for monitoring programmes

The FSVO and the cantons together monitor the occurrence of animal diseases and zoonoses. Every year livestock are sampled and examined for the presence of several diseases. The intention is to ensure that food is safe, to promote human and animal health and to create optimum conditions for international trade.

Cattle are monitored by sampling tank milk and blood. The sampling process is labour-intensive and necessitates many farm visits. Sampling in herds of suckler cows or fattening animals may also be dangerous for the operators. The project described here researched alternative sampling methods and tested them in the practical setting with the aim of making monitoring more efficient, less expensive and safer.

The objective of the “Abattoir sampling as a source of data for monitoring programmes” project was to develop more efficient monitoring methods and concepts for non-dairy herds, a population that makes up around one third of all cattle. In addition to a feasibility study, computer models were used to evaluate whether samples from the abattoir are representative of all cattle in Switzerland and whether this approach is less expensive than conventional sampling on the farm. A proportion of the blood samples used to monitor dairy farms was replaced by milk samples in 2010, leading to more efficient monitoring.

Inspections of the six biggest abattoirs in Switzerland (in terms of the number of cattle slaughtered) were performed to assess whether it is possible to take samples during slaughter and how sampling affects work processes. Workshops and questionnaires were used to gain practical knowledge and the effort involved was quantified as far as possible. A pilot study investigated how well the identification and sampling of individual pre-designated animals functions under real-life abattoir conditions. It also studied which material or organ is easiest to remove during slaughter. Cost-effectiveness was estimated by modelling monitoring on the basis of abattoir sampling using data from the Swiss stock movement database.

It emerged that blood and other samples can be taken without interrupting the slaughtering process. The samples from the six largest abattoirs in Switzerland were representative of the cattle in Switzerland as a whole. Sampling in the abattoir turned out to be less expensive than conventional sampling on the farm, but it is more difficult to identify infected herds from samples taken in the abattoir. The reason for this is the number of samples per herd. The animals in a herd are often taken for slaughter individually rather than in groups, or they are taken to several abattoirs for financial reasons. It is therefore almost impossible to tell when and where animals from one herd are going to be slaughtered, and in what numbers, all of which makes it more difficult to plan monitoring. On the other hand, samples from the abattoir are suitable for estimating the incidence of a disease in the country as a whole and for demonstrating that specific animal diseases are not present in Switzerland. The latter aspect is important for international trade.

As a result of the study, samples from herds of suckler cows and fattening animals are now taken at the seven biggest abattoirs in Switzerland. These cover a large part of Switzerland and about eighty per cent of the cattle slaughtered. (The project goes by the acronym RiBeS from the German for cattle sampling in the abattoir.) The web-based RiBeS application was created to implement the project. It uses stock movement data to inform the meat inspectors via the abattoir’s computer system which animals need to be sampled. The samples are tested by recognised diagnostic laboratories and the results are sent to the FSVO for evaluation and monitoring. For the time being, RiBeS will be used to monitor bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD). Its application will be extended to the monitoring of other animal diseases in the future.

RiBeS makes it simpler and less expensive to monitor cattle in Switzerland. Identitas AG, the company that operates the stock movement database, is currently operationalising the RiBeS application. The cost of operating RiBeS is borne by the Federal Administration.