The liberalization of the global trade, and the fact that the consumers in the
industrialized countries are more and more demanding food to be not only
economical, but also healthy, tasty, safe and sound in respect to animal
welfare and the environment, are changing the so far quantity-oriented food
production, guaranteeing the nutrient supply for a nation, into an international
quality-oriented food market, where commodities, production areas, production
chains and brands compete each other.
The competitiveness of food production will soon be more dependent
on the reliability of the safety and the quality of the food and acceptability
of the production procedures than on quantity and price.
In contrast to the quantity-oriented markets that are often subsidized
and producers can always sell everything they produce, quality-oriented
markets are market-driven.
Thus, apart from the steady increase of the national and international
standards for food safety and public health, there is a growing influence
of the consumer's demands (often completely ignorant of agriculture) on the
animal production, its allied industries, advisers, consultants and food
All of this means that the agricultural supply of food production is facing
remarkable changes in the years to come, which is both challenge and opportunity
for food animal producers, packing plants and meat processors as well as for the
The paper describes the foreseeable changes and their implications on
livestock production and which on- and off-farm measures need to be developed
and implemented in vertically coordinated supply chains rather than on single farms.
THE NEED TO IMPROVE FOOD SAFETY AND TO IMPLEMENT QUALITY ASSURANCE FROM FARM TO TABLE
(The Example of Meat)
In countries that have implemented a consistent mandatory meat inspection, this
classical harvest food safety procedure and the more and more stringent rules
for post-harvest food safety measures improving the hygiene standards during
slaughter, meat processing, storage and distribution have led to a remarkable
decline of meat related food-borne diseases in man. However, although meat
inspection and food hygiene have been regarded as sufficient to guarantee safe
meat over almost 100 years, new approaches to food safety and meat quality are
becoming necessary. There are five major reasons for this need:
1.) Despite the generally recognized achievements in making food safer over
the decades with the mandatory meat inspection and the principles of food
hygiene being the most successful means in protecting the consumer against
food-borne health risks, there are still deaths due to food-borne disease
in man, e.g. 9000 deaths per year in the USA. Furthermore, the consumer's
confidence in the safety of food is decreasing:
It is true that meat has never been as safe as today, but the
perception of the risks due to meat is that there are more risks
to human health then ever. This general recognition is highly
supported by the media. The urban consumer does not differentiate
between commodities or diseases so that reports on
BSE and E. coli O:157 H:7 do not only have an adverse impact on
beef, but on meat in general. The concerns with food safety in meat
focus mainly on pathogens, antimicrobial and chemical residues, and hormones.
2.) Modern agriculture is contributing to the increase of drug-resistant
pathogens in humans, and, thus often being attacked by the medical society and
consequently by the public:
The latest and most serious attack is that of the Director General of the
World Health Organization (WHO), who stated in his Word Health Report
1996: "....Making matters worse are modern types of food production.
Antimicrobials are used in meat production to increase growth, but not
usually in sufficient amounts to kill microbes. Drug-resistant bacteria
are then passed through the food chain to the consumer".
3.) Food safety issues can easily become non-tariff trade barriers and are
increasingly used as marketing tools, nationally and internationally:
Nationally: Advertisements for meat use food safety concerns more and more
often e.g. the grocery chain "Whole Foods Market" in several major cities of
the USA advertises: "....Our fresh meat and meat products come from animals
raised naturally without hormones and antibiotics...." It is obvious that
such statements create new consumer demands and increase the distrust in meat
without any safety or high-quality "label".
Internationally: Trade barriers that prevent national meat industries
from getting access to international markets are more and more based on
food safety concerns. The Danish salmonella control program throughout
the Danish pork industry is successfully used to increase the pork export from Denmark.
4.) The consumer has the tendency to ask more and more for fresh and
naturally raised (organic) products:
The tendency "back to the farmers' markets" results in the increasing
consumption of food that is not or less processed than branded products
with several processing procedures (cleaning, food additives such as
preservatives, canning, packaging etc.) prior to marketing. The more
fresh or organic the food is, the more is the consumer dependent on
the absence of pathogens and contaminants in or on the raw material.
5.) The traditional mandatory meat inspection still is indispensable,
but unable to control and prevent the emerging food-borne pathogens that
nowadays pose risks to human health:
In the days of the so-called classical zoonoses, diseases such as
tuberculosis and brucellosis caused both clinical diseases that could be
recognized at farm level and lesions that could be recognized during meat
inspection at slaughter. The emerging pathogens of today such as Salmonella,
Toxoplasma, Trichinella, Campylobacter and Yersinia are only detectable through
targeted monitoring systems, since they do neither cause clinical symptoms in
affected animals nor lesions that could be helpful to recognize contaminated carcasses.
FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY APPROACH
As outlined above, the majority of the real and perceived reasons for the
increased concerns with the safety and quality of meat apply to the pre-harvest
area of the food production chain. Furthermore, it is true that the harvest food
safety measures (inspection and removing carcasses unfit for human consumption
from the food chain) is assuring the consumer's protection, but they do not prevent
the major safety-related defects in the slaughter pig, i.e. they are only quality
control at the end of the on-farm production phase.
Industries with long experiences in growing competition initially
used quality control to cope with increasing quality standards. The
needs to produce and sell high quality products and increase the
efficiency of the production process, however, has led to the development
of quality assurance systems along production chains. The difference between
quality control and quality assurance can be explained as follows:
Quality control is the evaluation of a final product prior to its marketing,
i.e. it is based on quality checks at the end of a production chain aiming at
assigning the final product to quality categories such as "high quality",
"regular quality", "low quality" and "non-marketable". Since, at the end of
the production chain, there is no way to correct production failures or
upgrade the quality of the final product, the low-quality products can
only be sold at lower prices and the non-marketable products have to be
discarded. Their production costs, however, had been as high as those of
the high and regular quality products. Thus, quality control has only a
limited potential to increase the quality and efficiency of a multi-step production procedure.
Quality Assurance, in contrast to quality control, is the implementation of
quality checks and procedures to immediately correct any failure and mistake that
is able to reduce the quality of the interim products at every production step.
Thus, the desired high quality of the final product is planned and obtained by conducting:
Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's) that guarantee the desired quality of the
interim products at every production step.
If an entire production chain is following a written
description (handbook) of all SOP's along the entire production chain, the demands for a
Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) are met.
The management approach to long-term success through customer satisfaction,
based on the participation of all members of an organization (suppliers included)
in improving processes, products, services and the working culture is called:
Total Quality Management (TQM).
Examples for quality control versus quality assurance in the area of food safety are:
the testing of carcasses for residues is quality control, the implementation
of residue avoiding production procedures at farm level is quality assurance;
the testing of meat products for salmonella prior to their marketing and
consumption is quality control, the implementation of on- and off-farm salmonella-reducing
measures as standard operating procedures is quality assurance.
In food production, where the safety of the produced food has the
ultimate priority in the framework of quality, the
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system is the internationally recognized
system to help assure safe food production. HACCP emphasizes prevention in the avoidance of
food safety problems. HACCP combines common sense with an evaluation of risks to identify the
points along the food production chain, where possible hazards may occur, and then to strictly
manage and monitor these points to make sure the process is in control. The HACCP system is
made up of three parts:
1.) The identification of hazards, and the determination of the severity of
the hazard and risks. These are risks associated with growing, harvesting,
processing, distributing, preparing and/or using a raw material or food product.
Hazard usually means the contamination, growth or survival of microorganisms
related to food safety or spoilage. A hazard can also include dangerous chemical
contaminants or foreign objects (glass or metal fragments). Risk is the estimate of
how likely it is that the hazard will occur.
2.) The determination of critical control points (CCP) required to control
the hazard. A critical control point is a location, practice, procedure or
process which can be used to minimize or prevent unacceptable contamination,
survival or growth of food-borne pathogens or spoilage organisms, or introduction
of unwanted chemicals or foreign objects.
3.) Establishment and implementation of monitoring procedures to determine
that each CCP is under control. Monitoring systems must be able to effectively
determine if a CCP is under control. Corrective action must be defined to be used
when a CCP monitoring point shows that the system is out of control.
Before developing an HACCP plan for a production procedure, the establishment
of SOP's and GMP's is indispensable. Only the combination of these principles
provides the possibility to have the correctness and the high standard verified.
Verification is the procedure that provides the guarantee to any customer and to
the public that the product in question is of the quality the producer is claiming,
since it has been produced according to a production procedure that is based on specific
GMP and HACCP principles that are documented in a handbook. If the verification is performed
by independent agencies, bodies or companies that are accredited by nationally or
internationally approved quality assurance organizations, the procedure becomes a
Certification procedure. There are several systems, one of the leading internationally
approved certification procedures is DIN ISO 9000 (9001 - 9004).
All this means that the traditional mandatory meat inspection and the
classical post-harvest food safety measures have a limited potential
for further major improvements of the safety and quality of meat.
Therefore, additional measures must be taken:
1.) Pre-harvest food safety programs implementing the rules of GMP
and the HACCP concept at farm level from breeding to the slaughterhouse
gate have to be added to the existing harvest and post-harvest HACCP programs.
Quality assurance systems throughout the entire food production chain are the
precondition for any certification procedure.
2.) Governmental food safety programs and market-driven food safety/quality
programs must be coordinated.
It is obvious that the potential impact of pre-harvest food safety
measures based on the HACCP concept is different depending on the
nature of the addressed defect or pathogen. There are different
areas in which the defect or pathogen enters the food production
chain and the possibility to reduce the risk in question by proper
handling and/or cooking prior to consumption are different. In the
case of residues, on- and off-farm residue avoidance programs are the
only opportunity of prevention, since there is no pre-consumption
procedure that reduces the residue-associated risks to human health.
In contrast, proper handling and freezing and/or cooking of the final
product reduces the risks due to pathogens, but pre-harvest risk-reduction
programs can either prevent the contamination of the carcass (Trichinella and Toxoplasma)
or remarkably contribute to minimizing the pathogen-associated risks
(Salmonella, Campylobacter, Yersinia, Listeria).
Therefore, the targets for intervention measures in the food chain
should be prioritized as follows:
1.) On-farm residue avoidance programs with consistent record keeping,
proper drug use, storage and extended withdrawal times. In general,
an overall reduction of antimicrobial substances used in agriculture
both for medical and production purposes is necessary. Off-farm residue
programs via GMP and HACCP programs in the supplying feed mills aiming
at the prevention of cross-contamination and proper labeling.
2.) On- and off-farm programs to develop Trichinella-and Toxoplasma-free
herds, regions, areas and countries with a well-coordinated cooperation
between packers, producers, veterinary officers and practitioners, and epidemiologists.
3.) On-farm salmonella reduction programs with a statistically justified monitoring,
either bacteriologically or serologically, of the salmonella load of the animals
supplied for slaughter. Research is still needed to evaluate the risk factors for
the introduction of salmonella into herds, to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness
of Salmonella-reducing measures. It is also still necessary to evaluate to which extend
the recommended pre-harvest salmonella-reducing measures contribute to a measurable
Salmonella reduction in the final product.
4.) On-farm programs to reduce the introduction of Yersinia enterocolitica,
Campylobacter jejuni and Listeria monocytogenes. However, more research on the
prevalence of these pathogens in swine herds and on the feasibility of control measures is needed.
To reliably decrease the food-borne health risks and to improve the consumer's
confidence in food of animal origin, pre-harvest food safety programs should
consist of three elements:
1.) Implementation of GMP and HACCP programs aiming at reducing food-borne
risks to human health at farm level.
2.) Implementation of monitoring and surveillance programs at slaughter
to determine the frequency of the introduction of food-borne health risks
into the food chain identifying the farms of origin and mechanisms to develop
incentives for the farming community to reduce these risks. This element is,
as a rule, the "trigger" and "modulator" of any pre-harvest food safety program.
3.) Implementation of a certification procedure involving independent agencies
and persons such as accredited veterinarians and quality consultants.
THE IMPLICATIONS OF PRE-HARVEST FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY ASSURANCE
The role of the livestock producer is changing from just raising animals to
being an indispensable part of the food production chain that supplies a
product that is the basis for the production of a wholesome, safe and high
quality food product. The food animal practitioner's former focusing at
treating diseased animals, then at herd health and productivity will change
to focusing at supporting the livestock producer to provide slaughter animals
with quality properties that meet the demands of slaughter-houses and meat processors,
wholesalers, retailers and finally the consumer. Along with a consistent herd/flock
health management, the food animal veterinarian will more and more be involved in
on-farm pathogen control and on-farm residue avoidance programs, monitoring systems
and verification procedures.
To take advantage of this development, it is necessary to introduce
epidemiological methods for data collection, processing and analyzing
into the daily work of the food animal veterinarian. The implementation
of information feedback systems is needed to have the management tool at
hand that combines data from the slaughter plant (disease-related lesions,
quality deficiencies, and monitoring results) with on-farm data on animal
health and residues (mortality, morbidity, pathogens, and drug use) and on
the performance of the herds of origin.
Once such an information system has been implemented, it is quite easy
to deal with any additional food safety/quality data set to address
problems such as animal welfare improvement, e.g. the porcine stress
syndrome and transport and/or environmental protection measures, e.g.
data on antimicrobials in manure and the nutritional use of heavy metals.
Producing animals for the production of certified high quality and safe
food products will make the livestock producer a competitive, publicly
accepted and appreciated component of the food production chain. The
food animal veterinarian will play an active role in the process of guiding
animal production into becoming a transparent and high quality supply of food production chains.
The implementation of pre-harvest food safety programs using information
feedback systems will be the major tool to prevent any negative impact of
food safety problems on a country's export of food. First, the probability
of food-borne risks to human health through meat produced from animals using
a pre-harvest food safety approach is lower. Second, if food safety concerns
are misused as non-tariff trade barriers, any food production chain using a
science-based and transparent pre-harvest food safety program, is much more
defensive than the traditional livestock production. Without consistent data
on the entire production chain, it is almost impossible to deliver scientific
evidence that the production in question is following the standards and guidelines
of the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission and the OFFICE INTERNATIONAL DES EPIZOOTIES
(O.I.E.). However, if it can be proven that the production of the refused food is meeting
the internationally approved standards, the "Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and
Phytosanitary Measures" - appendix of the Marrakesh Agreement that established the World
Trade Organization in April 1994 - will protect the exporting country against the unfair
or unjustified use of food safety concerns as non-tariff trade barriers.
The major characteristics of modern food production systems that are organized
as described above are:
1.) vertically coordinated supply chains provide distinct market
segments with defined (branded) food products;
2.) any food product is traceable throughout the production chain up to the
farm of origin; and
3.) the use of pre-harvest food safety and quality assurance programs with
third-party certification allows the livestock producer to offer shared liability
in case of safety or quality deficiencies.