Food Safety in Pork Production and Processing

Pork production has safety implications for both producers and consumers, Dr Brian Evans, the executive vice president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency told the recent World Pork Conference in Qingdao China. By ThePigSite Senior Editor Chris Harris.
calendar icon 21 October 2009
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Dr Evans said that there were potential health consequences for producers, their families, their employees and those involved in the transport, slaughter and processing arising from zoonotic diseases.

For consumers, there are potential health consequences associated with foodborne illnesses.

"We have seen over the last 10 years a number of viruses that have had an impact," Dr Evans said.

He told the conference that recent and recurring zoonotic diseases that are of major concern both at the production level and to the public are Nipah virus, Reston Ebola virus and pandemic influenza H1N1-09 virus, although he added that pigs have been the victims of the virus but have not been the vector.

For the consumer, the potential health consequences include pathogens, residues of antimicrobials, hormones, pesticides chemicals and heavy metals and many of these hazards may be sub-clinical or asymptomatic in the live animal.

Dr Evans said that there were an estimated 6,000 deaths daily around the world due to pathogens and hazards such as E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, leptospirosis and hepatitis A.

"However, a lot is linked to bad handling of food after retail and has nothing to do with production," he said.

He said that it is more a question of instilling a culture of food safety into the consumer.

However, several foodborne pathogens have become the subject of regular scientific and media reporting and these reports are not unique to the pig meat industry. In this way, the pathogens that become the centre of reports can undermine consumer confidence in the products.

The prerequisite for food safety and consumer confidence is governed by Awareness, Culture and Trust, Dr Evans said.

"It is all in how you ACT," he said.

He said there has to be both surveillance and traceability and information has to be shared across the sectors.

"It is important to establish a public sector culture of food safety."

Dr Evans said it was important to establish incentives to encourage food safety.

He added that trust is established through integrity in the inspection systems and there also needs to be competence, consistency and transparency, and that all this needs to be communicated to the consumer and through the industry.

"We need science-based and consistent measures that would be applied domestically as well as internationally," he said.

Dr Evans said that food security and food safety needs of consumers are priority concerns for all countries and with an increased demand and dependence on global supply there is a critical need to collectively support and implement internationally adopted science-based standards for sustainability, predictability and safety and for competitiveness.

However, he said that actions taken by some countries undermine the recommendations, solidarity and efforts of international standards organisations.

"There's a need for countries to be much more conservative on imports compared to exports. They need to be even-handed and equitable," he said.

Dr Evans said that actions taken at borders can serve as a disincentive for countries, industries and producers to invest in surveillance, detection and reporting.

And these actions can serve to confuse and alarm consumers if diseases are subsequently discovered in their own country or if the authorities are inconsistent in the actions they take domestically.

However, Dr Evans said that with increasingly sophisticated and sensitive diagnostic methods and increased testing programmes being applied around the world, there is a difficulty in being able to interpret the relative risks associated because the levels of detection are so sensitive.

"We need to recognise good practice and high standards for true safety," he said.

He added that food safety is not achieved at a single point of inspection or intervention, but it is a culture.

Food safety is equally prevention and response and it is a continuous programme from agricultural production, through the farm to slaughter, processing, distribution, retail, consumer handling and consumption.

He said that the best way to ensure safety was to have a programme that was backed by a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) system, and this needs to be extended right back to the farm.

"In a world of constantly evolving and emerging risks, food safety is a journey not a destination," he concluded.

October 2009
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