Animal Status Declarations still a dog’s breakfast

After eight years ASDs are still causing problems for meat plants, because around 7-8% of livestock consignments arrive at the plant with an error on the form. This means the stock technically shouldn’t be accepted for slaughter, but should be returned to the point of origin, either farm or saleyard.

 

Meat companies I have spoken to have varied experiences, but all agree they have quite a few problems with suppliers, especially at the peak of the season. Unless the stockyard manager can make immediate phone contact with the supplier whose stock have arrived with an incomplete or incorrect form, there’s no option but to send them back where they came from. Often, farmers are out on the farm and can’t be contacted in time.

 

At Auckland Meat Processors, the largest single plant in the North Island which serves mainly the domestic trade, they now only have two or three incorrect forms per day, with tremendous improvement over the last five years when a number of suppliers used to forget about filling in the herd number, entering the despatch date or even signing the form. The improvement has possibly got quite a bit to do with a phone call from Peter Rasmussen, the Stockyard Manager, at 5.30 in the morning, because not many make the same mistake twice.

 

In contrast Greenlea reports a consistently high percentage of errors with no improvement over the last two seasons. Greenlea’s experience shows many repeat offenders, as well as suppliers who only make occasional mistakes through carelessness. Notably some large farm enterprises feature among the offenders, suggesting a lack of staff training.

 

At the height of the season each AFFCO plant has to reject between 10 and 15 consignments every day, mostly minor errors, but enough for the plant vets to reject them, unless the farmer can be contacted immediately to fax a signed correction. Also, as is the case whenever people are involved, different vets have varying tolerance levels for what they are willing to accept.

 

ASDs have been required about the same length of time NZ Food Safety Authority has existed as a separate regulatory body and there has been progress towards standardisation since the early days, when every meat company had its own form. The ASD is available on the NZFSA website for the supplier to download and print as needed, a contrast to the Australian system which sends out serial numbered forms to each farm property for completion with the relevant details, whenever stock movements occur.

 

While the New Zealand system is essentially the same as the MLA’s, it has the advantage of being much cheaper for the farmer – web based form instead of printed and mailed duplicate books – but it doesn’t have anything like the same degree of robustness. Our system places a lot of responsibility on the meat plant at the cost of considerable disruption, at the same time it fails to police adequately livestock transfers from farm to farm and saleyards are only randomly audited.

 

NZFSA audits compliance with the ASD system on farm, auditing 12 farms per plant per year, a very small percentage of the total, which places great faith in the accuracy of this sample to reach a robust conclusion. The other areas of weakness in need of improvement are the inconsistent audit programmes which apply to saleyard transactions and trading between farms.

 

The introduction of mandatory animal ID will be an important part of closing the gaps, but meantime an emailed version of the ASD with farmer of origin’s signature to match the hard copy carried by the stock transport driver would make meat companies’ lives a bit easier.

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