The co-operative structure of the Danish pig meat industry has proved itself as a valuable model for addressing food safety challenges. The close links between producers and abattoirs have been key in helping them to solve any problems quickly and effectively through partnership. This partnership has also extended to working closely with Danish authorities and other industry stakeholders.
In addition, the uniform nature and consistent practices within the Danish system have made it easier to facilitate the introduction of new initiatives quickly and effectively throughout the industry.
Strict controls in monitoring and implementing legislation also play their part in ensuring high levels of meat safety. Danish food safety legislation often exceeds that of other EU Member States.
It is vital that any food safety system is built on robust traceability. The Danish system operates comprehensive registration, marking and documentation throughout the production chain and is well placed to meet current requirements for more robust standards of traceability.
The vast majority of farmers in Denmark deliver finished pigs to their local slaughterhouse on a weekly basis. All pigs are marked with a unique ID number and all herds are registered on a public database, in which all movements of pigs are also recorded. Only pigs born and reared in Denmark may be slaughtered in Danish abattoirs, thereby guaranteeing that the meat is Danish and comes from healthy animals.
As this chart shows, four broad sources of risk have been identified on the farm: the local environment, the pigs themselves, other animals and housing & inventory. A series of controls are in place to minimise those risks to food safety.
A range of strategies have been implemented to maintain healthy herds, including the purchase of high health animals from the Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) programme. Alongside strict biosecurity measures, this limits the risk of spread of animal diseases. Most Danish producers have a formal Health Advisory Agreement with their local veterinarian.
The production of feed for the pigs is strictly controlled, both the manufacture of compound feeds and the ‘home-mixing’ of feed on the farm.
Many initiatives have been introduced to encourage responsible usage of veterinary medicines and eliminate unnecessary use. A high level of animal health therefore coexists with one of the lowest uses of medication among major livestock producing countries.
The use of pesticides on all crops, including those grown for feed, is also strictly controlled by legislation. Extensive surveillance programmes confirm that residues in Danish meat are virtually non-existent.
The abattoir is a critical link in the integrated production chain and this chart summarises the potential sources of risk in the production environment, including the animals themselves, lack of proper temperature controls, the employees, the equipment and the fabric of the building itself.
All Danish abattoirs have implemented self-audit programmes, supervised by the authorities and based on detailed risk assessment procedures linked to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). Through industry-led initiatives, such as the Global Red Meat Standard (GRMS), Danish abattoirs have set even higher standards than those required by legislation. Extensive training programmes for employees, combined with independent control measures, ensure that these high standards are successfully implemented.
Good hygiene practice and avoidance of cross-contamination have always been priorities in addressing biological risks arising in both the slaughtering and cutting processes. New techniques and equipment have been developed to improve standards even further. Better hygiene is often achieved by more frequent use of automated procedures on the slaughter lines and work undertaken by the Danish Meat Research Institute has played a major role in introducing new technologies and processes into Danish abattoirs.
Building and equipment design also plays a key part in reducing the risk of the spread of bacteria. Regular maintenance of the slaughter lines, monitored by the Danish Veterinary Service, is also crucial in that regard.
The monitoring of residue levels as part of the Danish industry’s food surveillance programme is fully supported by the slaughterhouses. Each abattoir conducts random sampling of meat to test for presence of antibiotics, hormones and other growth promoting substances, pesticides and heavy metals. The samples are analysed by approved laboratories. If residue levels are found to be above an agreed Maximum Residue Level, the authorities are notified and a veterinarian will visit the herd to investigate the situation on the ground and decide whether further action is necessary.
Food Safety Case Studies
The national programme for the monitoring and control of salmonella and the initiatives taken to eliminate the unnecessary use of antibiotics provide two ‘case studies’ of how the industry works in close co-operation with the Danish authorities to implement new measures to address specific food safety challenges.
Salmonella is recognised as a significant source of human food poisoning and the comprehensive Danish pig industry programme for monitoring and control of salmonella began in 1993 and has covered all potential sources of contamination throughout the production chain.
All feedstuffs companies have an obligation to produce ‘salmonella free’ feed. A monitoring programme of all feed mills is carried out by the relevant Danish authorities, which are also responsible for the control of farmers mixing their own feed on the farm.
A monthly monitoring programme, based on blood sample testing, is carried out in all breeding and multiplying herds. If salmonella is detected during these tests, then the herd in question is required to draw up a plan for corrective action and the herd is obliged to declare its salmonella status to any potential purchasers of their stock.
Continuous monitoring of commercial herds delivering over 200 pigs per annum is carried out by the slaughterhouses. These tests are based on analysis of meat juice from individual samples taken. The presence of salmonella antibodies is an indicator that the pig has been infected. The herds are then categorised into three levels.
A series of penalties are levied on herds in Levels 2 and 3, which ensures that these producers will take remedial action. Around 97% of finisher herds are now in the ‘low risk’ Level 1 category.
Additional hygiene precautions are taken at the abattoir. Pigs from Level 3 herds are transported to the slaughterhouse separately from other pigs and then slaughtered under special hygienic conditions.
Danish slaughterhouses take daily samples from pig carcases to check for salmonella. If the level of salmonella exceeds a specific limit at a particular slaughterhouse, then it must draw up a plan of action and corrective measures must be taken. The sensitivity of testing methods has been increased over the years and currently the detection level remains at or around 1 per cent each month.
The number of cases of human food poisoning in Denmark, which can be attributed to salmonella in pig meat, is low, and has declined consistently since the control programme was introduced.
Denmark is unique among major pig producing countries in operating a ‘whole chain’ approach for the surveillance and control of salmonella in pig meat on an industrywide basis. The Danish system, which has been developed over 20 years, currently serves as a model for other countries seeking to implement EU requirements for control of salmonella in pig meat.
The controls on the use of veterinary medicines in Denmark provide another ‘case study’ of
how the industry has worked in close collaboration with the authorities in addressing a
meat safety challenge. A growing body of evidence has suggested that misuse or overuse
of antibiotic medicines in treating both human and animal disease may be linked to the
development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
The annual DANMAP survey was established in 1995 and since then it has tracked the
development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in animals, food and the human population.
Since the mid-1990s, the Danish pig industry has worked closely with the authorities on strategies to reduce the use of antibiotic medicines, as well as ensuring that they are not used in a manner that may present a risk for human health.
Danish legislation states that the local veterinarian may prescribe but cannot sell antibiotics and medicines may not be used prophylactically but must be prescribed to treat a specific disease identified in the herd.
The Danish pig industry can demonstrate a responsible approach to the use of veterinary medicines and has been quick to respond to emerging health risks by voluntary action. During the 1990s, the industry agreed to a voluntary ban on the use of avoparcin and virginiamycin as growth promoters and the use of all growth promoters was banned from January 2000, six years in advance of EU legislation in this area.
Recent concerns have been expressed about the use of the same classes of antibiotics for both animal and human medicine and in 2010 the Danish pig industry agreed to ban the use of cephalosporins, used widely to treat staphylococcus infections in the human population. Denmark is also one of the few countries to have banned the use of fluoroquinolones in pigs, the latter being widely used in human medication.
Denmark has robust measurement systems in place, which have informed a proper risk-based strategy towards the development of controls on the use of veterinary medicines.
In 2000, the Danish authorities established VETSTAT, a central database, in which vets and pharmacists register all prescriptions of veterinary medicines issued to individual farmers. It enables a much more accurate picture of the overall use of veterinary medicines for different species of livestock, as well as an exact record of medicines used by individual farmers.
Since 2010, VETSTAT data has been used to issue a 'Yellow Card' to producers using above average amounts of antibiotics, who are then required to implement measures to reduce their usage.
The national residue surveillance programme has established the virtual non-existence of
Antibiotic residues in pig meat, thus confirming responsible practice and almost universal observation of mandatory withdrawal periods by pig producers. The programme includes
analysis of over 17,000 samples per annum, nearly four times the statutory minimum level required by EU regulations.
VETSTAT data confirms that the Danish pig industry has halved its usage of antibiotic
Medicines since 1995 and indicates that the Danish pig industry has one of the lowest levels
of veterinary medicine usage among all major pig producing countries.