Switching to post-slaughter clipping is realistic option

The potentially life-threatening practice of clipping dirty cattle on-farm before slaughter could soon be a thing of the past if a trial under way at ABP’s Shrewsbury plant is successful.

Under an initiative launched by the abattoir in January, dirty cattle are now being clipped post-slaughter, with farmers believed to be paying £3/head, to reduce the danger posed by on-farm clipping.

NFU livestock board chairman and Cumbrian beef farmer Alistair Mackintosh said the move to post-slaughter clipping was welcome, and would reduce the risk of on-farm injury as a result of clipping. “Too many farmers are being unnecessarily hurt as a result of this practice, with wrist, arm and hand injuries commonplace. So, moving it to the slaughter line makes obvious sense – and £3/head is a fair price, particularly for farms without first-class handling facilities.”

But Mr Mackintosh has concerns that abattoirs adopting the practice would need to ensure only dirty cattle were clipped. “Charging farmers to clip cattle unnecessarily would be unacceptable. Additionally, I’d sooner see dirty cattle penalised in the price paid to encourage farmers to keep cattle as clean as possible, rather than another cost being added to the sector. But where cattle are dirty, post-slaughter clipping should be the preferred option.”

Meanwhile, NFU Scotland livestock adviser Penny Johnston believes anything which removes the need for farmers to undertake clipping on-farm is a step in the right direction. “Cattle clipping is one of the subjects we receive most complaints about and we are aware of huge numbers of farmers who have been injured in the process of clipping dirty cattle.

“On top of that, pre-slaughter clipping causes massive stress for cattle, which, in turn, can affect meat quality. For an industry trying to promote a high-quality product, having this quality potentially compromised by needless handling is unacceptable.”

Historically, some abattoirs have argued there was insufficient space available on the killing line to accommodate post-slaughter clipping and that the cost of the equipment was prohibitive, she explains. “Also, abattoirs are responsible for food hygiene and from their point of view the easiest way to avoid any risk of meat contamination is to prevent possible sources of infection entering the plant. Dirty cattle pose a significant risk of passing E coli and listeria into the food chain.

“So having cattle clipped pre-slaughter has historically made sense from a food hygiene standpoint, but it appears ABP Shrewsbury has had no problems since initiating this trial, so there is hope other abattoirs may be able to follow suit in due course. I believe it’s been common practice in other countries for many years, so the sooner it’s adopted here the better.”

A spokesman for ABP told FWi the trial has so far been successful, with no slowdown in abattoir productivity and no reduction in hygiene standards due to the presence of hairs in the atmosphere. “It is likley other ABP plants will follow suit in due course, but it could be a troublesome practice for some abattoirs as there has to be sufficient room between the kill box and the main dressing line to allow clipping to take place.”