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Ante-mortem Examination Guidelines

Although the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) came into force on January 15, 2019, certain requirements may apply in 2020 and 2021 based on food commodity, type of activity and business size. For more information, refer to the SFCR timelines.

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Purposes of Ante mortem Examination (Screening)

As described in the Standards for ante-mortem examination and inspection, ante mortem examination (screening) is to be performed by the operator on all animals/flocks, whether domestic or foreign origin, within 24 hours of slaughter. If for some reason they have not been slaughtered within that period, they are to be re-examined prior to slaughter. ). It is the operator's responsibility to present animals/flocks that are intended for slaughter for ante-mortem inspection by CFIA. Ante-mortem examination procedures described in this document meet the requirements of section 137 and 138 of the Safe Food for Canadians regulations and Standards for ante-mortem examination and inspection.

There are some very important reasons for performing ante mortem examination (screening) on animals/flocks and you should keep them in mind when performing your examination. These reasons are to:

  1. Identify animals/flocks showing clear evidence of being affected with a disease or condition that could render the carcass unfit for human consumption. This also allows you to identify animals affected with disease showing no evidence or post-mortem lesions (e.g. a rabid animal would have characteristic signs on ante mortem but no lesions on regular post-mortem inspection).
  2. Identify animals/flocks which could pose a threat to the health of personnel handling the carcass (e.g. ringworm).
  3. Identify animals/flocks which are suspected of being affected with a disease or condition that might render the carcass unfit for human consumption.
  4. Identify animals/flocks which are suspected of having been treated with antibiotics or other chemotherapeutic agents that may result in contaminated carcasses.
  5. Identify animals/flocks that could lead to problems during the dressing procedures and result in heavily contaminated carcasses during the evisceration operations.
  6. Identify animals/flocks which are suspected of having a reportable disease or a Foreign animal disease (e.g. Avian Influenza and Tuberculosis are reportable diseases and Foot and Mouth disease is an exotic disease as it does not exist in Canada).
  7. Identify suspect animals/flocks that require segregation and separate slaughter. This also includes animals ordered to be slaughtered.
  8. Make a disposition regarding the suitability of animals for slaughter so that dead or dying animals do not enter the slaughter floor.
  9. Identify animals/flocks requiring special handling for animal welfare reasons (e.g. animals with fractures).

Don't forget that additional responsibilities concerning animal welfare are found in Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, Health of Animals Regulations and further explained in animal welfare guidance documents. These are related to care and handling of food animals and may also be considered during the ante-mortem examination stage.

Examination of the Animals

You will incorporate provisions for comprehensive ante mortem screening and examination into your Preventive Control Program (PCP).

Your initial examination is the process of observation and detection of animals with noticeable abnormalities. So you must first learn to recognize normal animals. The following section will tell you how to identify animals which must be segregated from others.

How to conduct your examination

It is of the utmost importance that you develop a standardized approach for your examination so that all animals are observed completely and in a consistent manner. Best practice is to examine the animals immediately upon arrival.

Non-crated animals must be observed at rest and in motion. Both sides, the head and rear of each animal, must be examined.

In-pen screening should take into account the requirements for observation while maintaining safety considerations. An alternative to examining animals on arrival is to observe the animals in motion as they leave the holding pens.

Crated species should be observed directly in their crate, either on or off the conveyance. As per your preventive control plan, you will examine, at live receiving area, a sample of the shipment that is chosen in order to accurately represent the general flock health of the whole shipment.

The "shipment" must be defined by licence holder. The definition should allow achieving all objectives of ante-mortem examination. Currently, a shipment means birds transported together in a truckload. When several trailers arrive with a single truckload, each trailer must be sampled individually. Some establishments receive small shipments from farms. In certain situations, the farm and the establishment are located on same premises. Multiple small truckloads for such quick transport are allowed to be considered as one shipment per hour if the birds were raised under similar husbandry practices and this practice will not lead to food safety and animal welfare concerns.

For poultry and rabbits examine 5-10% sample from the shipment of food animals intended for slaughter along with flock sheet for poultry to achieve all objectives of ante-mortem examination. Even though the birds are caught randomly at farm, they are exposed to different ventilation and weather conditions while transport; all parts of the shipment should be sampled for ante-mortem examination.

The licence holder must present sample of shipment to the CFIA for inspection. The sample size to be presented to the CFIA for inspection is determined by the local veterinary inspector with supervisory authority. CFIA may require whole shipment to be presented and may then choose a sample for inspection. At discretion of the CFIA, the birds may be presented for inspection by a CFIA veterinary inspector and/or a designated CFIA inspector in designated inspection area. Sometimes, whole shipment may be held for detailed inspection by a veterinary inspector.

Don't forget to also review, where applicable, the submitted food animal information document (e.g. Flock Sheet for poultry and equine information document) for its completeness and accuracy. The licence holder must inform the veterinarian with supervisory authority about their findings.

Signs you should look for

What types of abnormalities should you be looking for when performing the initial ante mortem examination (screening)? In general anything that deviates from normal should be segregated during initial ante mortem examination (screening). There are some exceptions of minor significance such as cow with one horn or with an extra teat, a hog with no tail, minor cuts, etc. Based on the species, type of animals (i.e. market VS cull) and relative risk associated to certain deviations, an official veterinarian may determine that some deviations don't need to be segregated to meet the intent of the Regulations. Such exception should be discussed with the veterinarian with supervisory authority at your establishment and clearly documented in your PCP.

Your job is to recognize abnormalities. It is therefore extremely important to recognize what is normal when examining an animal. This takes some time and with experience you will be able to judge which conditions require a detailed inspection by veterinary inspector. It is recommended to have photographs of disease conditions in the ante-mortem examination area for easy reference especially for foreign and exotic animal diseases.

Generally abnormalities that require segregation of animals at the time of initial ante mortem examination fall into the following categories:

Alert the inspection staff when diseased animals are found in a herd as the rest of the herd could be affected by the same disease (e.g. respiratory disease in swine). Also where there are elevated levels of dead on arrivals (DOAs), it is important that you notify the CFIA official veterinarian.

We will discuss each of these in more detail with some examples.

Do not hesitate to ask for assistance so that you can develop a proper judgement and recognize abnormal conditions.

Abnormalities in breathing

Usually this refers to frequency of respiration but there are also other abnormalities such as frequent coughing and difficulty in breathing. Examples of abnormal breathing are:

The main point for you to remember is that if the breathing pattern differs from normal, the animal should be screened out.

Abnormalities in behaviour

Abnormalities in behaviour can be significant in some very serious diseases such as rabies and lead poisoning. Examples of abnormal behaviour are:

Animals that behave in an abnormal way should be segregated at the time of ante mortem examination. Special attention should be taken so the animal will not be a danger to other animals or to humans.

Abnormalities in gait

When an animal has an abnormal gait or is reluctant to move, it usually indicates that there is pain somewhere. The animal may be suffering from abnormalities anywhere it its legs or may have pain in the chest or abdomen. It may also indicate nervous disorders.

Abnormalities in posture

An animal with abnormal posture:

These are examples of abnormal posture. With experience you will soon learn the normal posture of an animal. Sometimes normal animals may temporarily assume posture that may be mistaken for abnormal postures e.g. a cow that has rested a long time may stretch and stand with its legs out front as in some disease conditions; also, resting cattle sometimes have their head turned along their side. In normal animals this posture disappears when the animal is stimulated.

The most frequently observed abnormal posture is of course the "downer". "Downers" are any animals that cannot stand or can only stand for short periods. Such animals must be handled without causing undue suffering and are usually segregated on initial ante mortem examination. If they cannot be segregated, operations should cease so that they may be dealt with. After veterinary inspection "downers" must be stunned in the yard if moving them causes undue pain and sent directly to the appropriate bleeding area.

Abnormal discharges or protrusions from body openings

The normal animal/bird has no discharges or protrusions from its body openings. Examples of abnormal discharges or protrusions from the body are:

Abnormal colour

Abnormal colour is generally not as important as the other abnormalities; however, you must be on the lookout for this. Examples are:

Abnormalities in appearance (conformation)

You will see many of these. Whenever there is a change in the normal conformation of an animal/bird, a disease process should be suspected. Examples are:

In some instances it is helpful to compare both sides of the animal to find discrepancies. Any animal affected with the above abnormalities or other abnormalities of conformation should be segregated for veterinary inspection.

Abnormal odour

This is often difficult to detect on ante mortem. Examples of odors found at ante mortem examination are stinkweed, medicinal or punctured abscess odors. Your duty will be to hold the animals for veterinary inspection anytime you suspect an animal is affected with an abnormal odour.

What should you do when you see an abnormality?

In the event that you are confronted with an animal showing one or more of these abnormalities you should:

Don't forget that you may also have to implement additional/specific measures based on the result of your ante-mortem examination or based on CFIA representatives' instructions as result from their inspection(s) findings. For example:

What should you do when you have a reactor animal/flock?

In the case of identified reactors, you will segregate the animal/flock for a proper ante mortem inspection and proper CFIA's direction. Unless  immediate slaughter for animal welfare reasons, , all reactors are slaughtered separately and apart from the regular kill, preferably at the end of day's kill, and the identity of the animal/flock is carefully preserved throughout the dressing operation.

As applicable, slaughter floor, equipment, yards, etc., which have been used to hold or move reactor may need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. In the case of birds, trucks and crates used to convey birds for slaughter are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

What should you do when you have a suspect animal/flock?

All suspect animals/flocks will be properly managed as per CFIA veterinarian's instructions. All animals/flocks will be properly identified throughout the slaughter process, i.e., from the live receiving room to the final inspection station.

Unless immediate slaughter is necessary for animal welfare reasons, all suspects will be schedule for slaughter separately and apart from the regular kill, preferably at the end of day's kill, and the identity of the animal/flock will be carefully preserved throughout the dressing operation.

As applicable, slaughter floor, equipment, yards, etc., which have been used to hold or move suspect may need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

What and how should you record after your ante–mortem examination?

You will prepare and keep records in an auditable format in line with the regulatory requirements provided in the document named as Standards for ante-mortem examination and inspection. These records will show:

Additionally, as best practice, you should record the date and time of when the animals/birds were slaughtered.

What should you do if animals/birds need to be removed from or kept in your establishment?

If for any reason, animals/birds need to be removed from the establishment, it is the responsibility of the operator to verbally notify CFIA veterinary inspector. Such practices should be avoided since there is a potentially higher risk of transmission of disease in the slaughter environment. If such practice is being done, only healthy animals/birds can be removed from an establishment. An exception would apply for animals/birds that are moved from an establishment to a veterinary clinic.

Operator also needs to verbally notify CFIA veterinary inspector in case animals/birds need to be kept in the establishment for more than seven days. This should be applicable only for exceptional situations. Industry must have capacity and ability to feed the animals on a daily basis. The operator may also have to reconsider temporarily certain animal welfare standards (e.g. the need for space available per animal in a pen may be greater than what is needed on a normal day of operation).

In both cases, the operator is responsible to meet all the appropriate legislation ensuring that animals /birds are not suffering.

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