Meat inspection is to be more risk based


The COST Action RIBMINS, dealing with risk-based meat inspection and integrated meat safety assurance (RB-MSAS), recently organised a meeting in Brussels with stakeholders from international organisations, industry, competent authorities, and academia. The aim was to critically discuss the Europe-wide efforts on the implementation of modern meat safety systems and develop concepts for the future. The results of this meeting will be published as a roadmap/position paper that can be leveraged to direct future research and legislative efforts.

Engaging with experts and stakeholders

Group of researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders posing for a group photo
RIBMINS stakeholder meeting ‘Safe(r) meat in a changing world’ in Brussels, April 2023

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinions on meat inspection from a public health perspective recommend not carrying out routine palpations and incisions to avoid cross-contamination. On the other hand, from the animal health perspective, they recommend certain incisions and palpation to monitor some zoonoses. Moreover, RIBMINS has documented considerable variation in meat inspection coding systems and condemnation criteria. Future meat safety systems in Europe must find a balance between harmonisation of science-based guidelines and flexibility through the use of calibration and focus on risk-based principles.    

Kris De Smet, from the European Commission Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) said, “Meat inspection is an evolving issue since risks and new technologies evolve. EU legislation recognises the need to consider continuously new scientific and technological developments. The remit of RIBMINS is to inform competent authorities on these developments in order to make meat inspection more efficient in terms of food safety assurance and resources. In addition, it remains challenging to find a correct balance in meat inspection between verifying animal health and public health hazards. New developments can contribute to finding these balances.”

Prof. Truls Nesbakken from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, one of the pioneers of the modern meat inspection system, finds that the current meat inspection still has many similarities with the classic inspection that Robert von Ostertag founded in the 1890s. “We have learned that the classic meat inspection with its organoleptic examinations is not able to detect some important zoonotic agents. It was liberating to be able to participate in the Panel on Biological Hazards in EFSA who recommended improvements and alternative methods for meat inspection during the years 2010 to 2013. However, most of our conclusions were not applauded and followed up by the EU Commission and the EU Parliament. Accordingly, the most important role of RIBMINS has been to follow up the EFSA opinions and even add new ideas for meat inspection that in the end might result in RB-MSAS that protects the consumers,” adds  Prof. Nesbakken.

The importance of future collaboration was stressed by Prof. Lis Alban from the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, and Vice-Chair of RIBMINS: “Being part of RIBMINS has made it possible for researchers, food business operators and competent authorities to meet and establish a platform for collaboration. Change will only be brought about if we listen to each other and collaborate!” Prof. Diana Meemken from the Free University in Berlin added that increasing societal demands on the production of food of animal origin require innovative concepts and constructive cooperation between stakeholders and science.

Continuous training of official veterinarians (OVs) is another prerequisite for implementing legislative changes in meat inspection in different countries. Prof. Sophia Johler from the University of Zurich adds, “OVs take on a central role as risk managers in a state-of-the-art RB-MSAS. They are highly committed to life-long learning and their continuous training is crucial to allow them to fulfil their duties to the highest standard.” Prof. Claudia Guldimann from the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich added that sustained interest in the OV profession among young veterinarians, reconciling work and family life together with ensuring high level of expertise, is an important pillar for future meat inspection.

Mario Silvestro, from the Cremonini Group, represents the next generation of highly motivated professionals. Mario works for one of the leading Italian meat industry companies. He stated that RB-MSAS is critical for ensuring the safety and the quality of meat products for human consumption. “It is also more cost effective and efficient in preventing the spread of foodborne illness and therefore a crucial step towards ensuring the safety and integrity of the food supply chain. In Italy, we have advanced digital systems for the management of public health data at the livestock level. Wide availability of integrated data exchange software with these platforms could be a priority element to apply this new inspection approach,” said Mario Silvestro.

RIBMINS stakeholder meeting in Brussels, April 2023

The RIBMINS COST Action has grown in four years to more than 250 members who participate in working groups and who come from 36 European countries, but also from the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil.

The Chair of RIBMINS, Prof. Bojan Blagojevic from the University of Novi Sad, Serbia, defines the RIBMINS COST Action as an important step towards modernisation of the European risk-based meat inspection and the establishment of integrated meat safety assurance systems (RB-MSAS). Even though the RIBMINS COST Action is ending this year, the resulting network of experts will certainly keep working on a more integrated and systematic approach to wisely implement modern risk-based meat inspection systems.