Clear Slap Marking – a Step to Accurate Traceability

If a meat production and processing operation is to institute a traceability system, it needs to be accurate, efficient and comprehensive, writes ThePigSite editor in chief, Chris Harris.
calendar icon 17 February 2012
clock icon 5 minute read

All too often, systems are drawn up that provide the minimum information that in the end offers the scantest of protection for the consumer.

And when information is selected and recorded, it must also be clear and legible.

While for larger ruminants such as cattle, the traceability system can come down to individual animals, as information is generally held on a central official database, for smaller animals such as pigs, batch systems of traceability are generally used.

Buy your Pig Slap Marker here

In the pig industry, part of the tracking and tracing that in the EU is required by law stipulates that for an animal to be moved off the farm, the pig has to be identified by its specific herd number.

In the UK, the regulations laid down in the EC Council Directive 92/102/EEC are covered by the Pigs (Records, Identification and Movement) Order 2007.

This identification is shown either by ear tags or more generally, by a slap marking.

According to Edward Holt from slap marker technology manufacturer, Id and Trace, the slap marking system that tattoos a six- or seven-digit herd number on the shoulders of the pigs when it leaves the farm has an advantage over electronic ear tags because the marks are easier to read and they are not lost during the dehairing process on the slaughter line, as can be the case with tags.

The slap mark is also considerably cheaper than the tag and as it stays with the carcase after slaughter and through the splitting process into the chiller, it allows batch traceability and identification right through to primal cuts and beyond.

The only problem that can occur with a slap mark is its legibility, Mr Holt said.

"Some 24 per cent of slap marks can be illegible," he said.

This is largely caused through poor equipment and poor technique in delivering the mark.

Mr Holt said that research had shown that by giving the slap marker a profiled handle as seen with an axe or a racket from a racket sport, the operator can deliver the mark more easily and clearly, hitting the correct spot on the pig's shoulder.

The operator also has to ensure that the needle density is correct and the head is clean and sharp to give a clear mark.

Mr Holt said that while many abattoirs use different systems for tracking and tracing, the use of a slap mark helps to give a virtually failsafe method of batch identification.

He said that the best weight to use the slap marker on the pigs is when they reach 50kg although some pigs will have to be marked earlier if they are moved off the farm at around 30kg for finishing.

He added that if sows and boars are moved off the farm too, then the equipment has to be accurate and robust enough to be able to mark the older animals with a tougher skin.

Mr Holt said that the regulations that required every pig leaving the farm of origin for slaughter to be identified opened the flood gates for equipment from around the world to be imported.

However, the research carried out by Id and Trace through the 1980's, 90's and in 2008 revealed that pigs and farming requirements had changed and the equipment had to be developed to meet the new requirements.

Trials also showed improvements on slap score in the abattoir giving results of excellent, good and fair giving good assurance.

The company had also developed food grade ink for the slap marking. At present, there are no regulations that require the marking to be with food grade ink.

The food grade ink that has been developed by Id and Trace was introduced following a request from the UK pig meat processor, Cranswick.

Mr Holt has estimated that the cost a marking a pig is just 2p, based on a kilo of ink marking 1,500 pigs and the slap marker head efficiently marking 2,500 pigs before it has to be changed.

Part of the development of the marks and the use for traceability could come as the supermarkets in the UK are starting to take an interest in the way the pigs are marked, including looking at the equipment that is being used to mark the pigs.

However, Mr Holt believes that while the slap mark allows for traceability of the herd, further tracking and data storage can be achieved through 2D barcodes. These bar codes that can accompany the batches of pigs from the farm can contain information including breed, birth details, sow numbers, blood lines, veterinary input down to the codes of the drugs that have been used and the feed.

Using a 2D barcode, the information is easily read through scanners and even on a smart phone.

Further Reading

- You can view our previous article on the correct technique for slap-marking by clicking here.

Buy your Pig Slap Marker here

February 2012

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