Erin Stein, Class of 2015, recounts her study abroad program in Bristol, England. This was a two-week program through the University of Bristol.
June 10, 2014
Today we were joined by six students from the Royal Veterinary College (London). We also had a change in species from pigs (yesterday) to sheep and cattle. The ultimate process is relatively the same for sheep as it is for pigs. For cattle, a captive bolt is used pre-exsanguination. Also, with sheep and cattle, the hides are an important sale opportunity as well as a contamination risk. Therefore, unlike pigs which were dehaired, cattle and sheep are skinned and the hides are sold externally.
The cattle are fairly violent and it can be very dangerous work. The regulations surrounding the cattle and sheep are fairly strict. Of significant concern are the zoonoses of TB and BSE. TB vaccinations are a requirement for the British students upon entering vet school, similar to how we require rabies vaccinations. Today’s carcasses were mildly rewarding. We had evidence of liver flukes in one of the sheep carcasses. One interesting case was evidence of Cystercercus tenuicollis which is a tapeworm that typically is found in the intestines of the definitive host (canid species). However, in sheep, it causes visceral cystericercosis. Essentially, the tapeworm gets lost. In our case, the tapeworm had found its way to the liver and in an attempt to escape the liver where it could not survive, the tapeworm had formed a serpentine path through a section of the liver. Our other interesting case was tapeworm that had caused cysts in the lungs. We also learned about TB in ruminants. Although TB does cause nodules in the lungs (respiratory cases account for the vast majority of cases), the nodules are very small and difficult to see even though the OV is still required to feel the lungs. The ultimate key to diagnosing TB in a carcass is the lymph nodes that drain the lungs. In a TB positive case (even one that tested negative), the lymph nodes will be significantly enlarged. Also, when they are incised, they will have a grainy, sandy feel during the cutting process. Finally, in cattle, the heads are carefully inspected. The masseter muscles are incised in order to incise the parietal lymph nodes. The retropharyngeal lymph nodes and submandibular lymph nodes are also checked. An interesting point that I learned is that the eyes must be intact in the carcass because if they have been punctured and the animal had TB or some other serious zoonotic disease, then the entire carcass is now contaminated and therefore must be condemned.
We had a thoroughly explanation involving the captive bolt guns. The abattoir here uses a penetrating captive bolt gun which means that the bolt penetrates roughly seven centimeters into the skull (on this model). The other broad category of captive bolt guns is non-penetrating which means a broad-based, mushroom-shaped projectile percusses against the skull. Both categories function in essentially the same way to cause a concussive force from which the animal is thoroughly stunned and not likely to recover. However, if an animal were to recover from the stun (wake up), it would be more likely to occur with use of the non-penetrating captive bolt gun. After the explanation which involved the components of the captive bolt gun and how to care for it and put it back together, each of us were able to fire it into the heads of already slaughtered animals. We finished off the day with a nice pub meal involving one of the best chicken burgers that I have ever had!
June 11, 2014
This day was a little bit slower than the previous two days. While we had all three species represented, we had only eleven animals in total to work with. We were accompanied by one of the other vets assigned to the abattoir: a veterinarian from Norway named Pia. Pia accompanied us through our ante mortem evaluations. Today held an interesting case in that a farmer brought in two pigs that had no identification. There were not any tattoos or ear tags. The law in Great Britain is rather ambiguous and merely states that if the identity of the animal can be proven to the satisfaction of the Official Veterinarian, then the animal may be slaughtered. Therefore, it is up to the OV to whether or not he/she believes that the farmer has brought in the correct animals. In this case, the OV was satisfied and the animals were slaughtered.
Some of the cattle that were brought in today were Dexters which are very small, miniature cattle. However, what they lack in size, they definitely make up for in feistiness. It was potentially a problem but not an impossibility when it came to loading them into the stun boxes. Since the stun boxes are made for full sized cattle, the Dexters had quite a bit of room to kick and throw a fit before the captive bolt gun could be fired. Thankfully no one was injured and the animals were able to be slaughtered effectively and humanely.
As part of our assignment for the day, each of us took an animal and followed it from ante mortem inspections through slaughter to finally post mortem inspections where we presented our findings. Mine happened to be a sheep that was a treasure trove of pathology. There were signs of extensive wool pulling on the carcass (bruising and hemorrhage involving the skin particularly in areas on the dorsum and around the neck). Internally, there was evidence of Cystercercus tenuicollis in the liver; Muellerius capillaris and one other type of parasite in the lung. Also, the sheep had evidence of enzootic pneumonia. The final consensus was to condemn the lungs but accept the remainder of the carcass for consumption.
Following a break for tea, we finished up the slaughter for the remaining few animals. Then we received two lectures from Pia. The first was on the “Role of the Official Veterinarian in the Abattoir” and the second was “Emergency Slaughter Outside the Slaughterhouse.” Both lectures were exceptionally interesting. What has struck me as especially interesting is that most of the OVs in Great Britain are not British and were not even trained in Great Britain. Instead, most of them are Spanish or come from Eastern European countries such as Romanian. Apparently, as in the United States, there is a disappointing lack of interest in public health among veterinary students who are mainly interested in clinical practice even though the hours are far better in the public health sector (no overtime or weekends and set hours). Regarding emergency slaughter, Great Britain has strict regulations regarding what may be slaughtered on an emergency basis and what cannot. There is an entire list that details what is an actual emergency meriting slaughter including that it must be an otherwise healthy accident that suffered an accident. A veterinarian must perform the emergency slaughter after doing an ante-mortem inspection. The list is fairly extensive but several steps are fairly open to interpretation. However, at the end of the process, there is a form which must detail why the animal was slaughtered and what the emergency was and the veterinarian must sign it. Therefore, his/her name is meant to be the bond that upholds the standards. Following the lecture, we were given several cases that we had to interpret whether or not they were actually emergencies that warranted slaughter. Each of us presented our cases and then discussed them in detail.
June 12, 2014
Today, we were not actually on the abattoir floor. We also had the fortune to start later. We began the morning in the anatomy wet lab where all sorts of specimens were laid out. While not required to, we divided into Team Bristol (including me) and Team RVC in order to identify the pathology associated with each specimen. Following that, we presented to Andy (described to me on the first day as the short, hobbit-like creature which is one of the most accurate descriptions possible) as a sort of competition of the two teams against Andy. The pathology of the specimens ranged from Cystercercus tenuicollis to pericarditis to pleuritis to kidney cysts to ingrown hairs on the tail of a pig. Perhaps the most interesting specimen was a Smokey (affectionately named Doris by Andy) which is a method of slaughter that is actually illegal in the UK due to the fact that it does not remove the hide of the animal. The animal is slaughtered and then smoked on the outside and inside. Since the smoking process dries out the skin, the meet actually keeps better than the “normal” does. However, as our discussion involved, since the smokey method breaks the law requiring removal of the hide, then it breaks many of the other laws as well including animal welfare laws, animal transport laws, removal of the spinal cord and CNS matter, slaughter of sheep over one year old, etc. It is performed on a secretive, black market basis with high premiums being charged on the carcasses that are sold under the counter. Wales has a particular problem with it. During the BSE outbreaks in the mid-1990s, it was a major public health concern. Farmers saw their animals not being able to be transported due to public health and slaughterhouse concerns, but they saw that they could actually make money by selling their animals to smokey processors. Therefore, while the animals were not supposed to be moved off their farms, they were in fact transported which made the BSE outbreak even worse. Wales is actually considering legalizing the practice since that is the only way to get rid of it since it would significantly reduce the lucrative nature of the business.
After the wet lab, we returned to the museum of specimens on above the abattoir for more lectures. We received lectures on animal welfare regulations specifically involving stunning. We were able to handling the electric tongs (used to electrically stun sheep and pigs) which are surprisingly heavy and also several different types of captive bolt guns. Afterwards, we looked at various jars of specimens. The specimens were mostly internal parasites of various types, but they also including lice. It was fascinating to see them so well preserved and in one place. Thus far, I believe that this was my favorite day because Andy and Grace are such good teachers. They are able to infuse such humor into their lectures and gain the confidence of the students without making us feel stupid. The very first day of this rotation, Andy gave one of the best vet school speeches that I have heard thus far. In it, he said, “We know that we know more about animal welfare than you do, but there is no reason to rub your noses in it so feel free to ask questions. Unlike some rotations, on this rotation, we truly believe that there is no stupid question except the one not asked.” For that reason alone, I would have thoroughly enjoyed this rotation. However, combining all of the experiences has made this rotation thus far a truly enjoyable and educational experience that I will highly recommend to other students.
June 13, 2014
Today was different as well. The other students are given Fridays off. I was given the option to take today off as well, but I chose to come in. Due to that, I was the only student on the floor which gave me the best view in the house and a completely different experience. I shadowed Eva today. She is a veterinarian that was trained in Spain. As she told me, she came over to the UK for six months to improve her English. That was three years ago. I really enjoyed working with her, but more on that later.
On Fridays, one producer delivers sixty pigs for slaughter. Without eleven students on the floor, the slaughter men are able to work even more efficiently. Eva and I began with the ante mortem inspections. Once we had completed those, we returned to Eva’s office for coffee. When I began this morning, one of the workers heard that I was going to be working with Eva and the only thing that he said was, “I hope that you like coffee.” I just replied, “I survived vet school with coffee!” Once we had both changed into our boiler suits and hardhats, we began the post-mortem inspection. Technically in the UK, only the ante mortem inspection must be completed by the OV. However, since this abattoir is small, the OV performs both the ante mortem and the post mortem inspections.
The post mortem inspections are essentially the same thing that we have been completing all week. They involve looking at the pluck for signs of pathology including parasites, pneumonia, pericarditis, endocarditis, etc. Once any condemned parts are disposed of, then the carcass is examined. Of particular importance are the kidneys (signs of septicemia), joints (swelling, arthritis), pleura, tail (abscesses), etc. Once the carcass has been deemed acceptable, then a stamp is affixed to both shoulders and both hips. The stamp is merely a red food dye since everything must be edible.
While processing sixty pigs from the same producer can be rather boring particularly since they all theoretically have the same pathology (just varying degrees of illness), I especially found it interesting since Eva explained everything that we saw. Much of it I already knew, but it was an excellent refresher and I soon began to mentally identify the pathology on the carcasses before she could verbalize it just as a method of testing myself. During the day, we were able to talk quite a bit and compare veterinary medicine in Spain to that in the UK to that in the US. It is also especially interesting that public health in Spain is such a popular choice of a career as compared to in the UK and the US. As Eva explained, public health vets are highly respected and they are well paid. However, many vets are leaving Spain because the economy is so poor and the job market is far better in the UK. I thoroughly appreciated the candor of Eva and the staff of the abattoir. They willingly answered any question that I could pose.
June 14, 2014
My day off. The Bristol students have pretty much adopted me as one of their own. They even invited me to go for a picnic and a “country walk.” Little did I know that country walk meant a hike up some pretty steep hillsides. However, it was entirely worth it when I was blessed by a gorgeous panorama of the countryside including several peaceful farms with dairy cattle just out grazing against the brilliant green of the grass. It was also highly enjoyable to be able to spend time with my new friends and meet several new people. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time over here, and apart from missing my animals and realizing that I have to return to finish my veterinary degree, I would happily stay.
June 15, 2014
A fairly boring day involving me, sleeping in, reading, then completing paperwork!
June 16, 2014
Beginning of the last week. I cannot believe how time has flown by. I have sincerely enjoyed this rotation. Besides the incredible learning experience, I have been really welcomed as a student. My fellow students are exceptionally friendly, and this week’s group was no different. I met the three new students from the University of Bristol. One of them even offered to bake a cake later this week when she heard that Friday is to be my last day in the UK!
The day began for me at 8am in the lairage. Today, we only had pigs, but it was a good introduction for the Bristol students and a good refresher for me. We observed the slaughter process from start to finish beginning with the ante mortem inspection and finishing with the post mortem inspection. Today, we had quite a few examples of milk spots and enzootic pneumonia but neither of those is exceptionally surprising considering that they are pigs. After examining our chosen carcasses, we presented what we found. Since it was just pigs, it was a fairly laid back, easy day.
After the Bristol students were dismissed for the day, I met with Dr. van Klink for a lecture. We spent two hours discussing risk analysis and how it relates to the processing of animals for meat purposes. I found the lecture exceptionally interesting. It was an area with which I was only vaguely familiar and that is really only through the utilization of common sense. The lecture included actual definitions of risk and hazard. Ultimately, to me, there are two important reasons to utilize risk analysis: to minimize risk in order to minimize human losses (health and life) and to minimize risk in order to maximize trade potential. Deciphering trade boundaries and observing the shipment of animal products literally all over the world is a fascinating study. It is incredible what can affect the trade potential of a nation, everything from the health status of the animals (obvious since other nations do not want to import goods that could prove dangerous to their borders) to welfare status to the inspections that are done at the processing plants. From what I learned, because of OIE, countries can trade freely with countries of equal or lesser status. This means, that if India were to achieve a similar status as the United States, the US would not be able to refuse animal goods from India just on the basis of not wanting to trade with them (reciprocal trade). However, the exchange might not be in the same product. For example, we might ship pork (net export) to China in exchange for electronics. The World Trade Organization closely monitors international trade in order to enforce fair and equal trade and to prevent one nation from flooding the markets of another.
June 17, 2014
We had an incredibly exciting day today. We met our new rotation partners: the new group from RVC which also included a secondary school student who came in for career shadowing. I have not had a chance to learn more, but the RVC group includes an American!
It was a very full day that included a large number of sheep and four steers. Most of the sheep were Jacobs. I really like this breed. They are a nice dual purpose breed for both wool and meet, but they are also very aesthetically pleasing with their black and white spots. Most of the sheep were fairly healthy on the ante mortem inspection. However, there were two interesting cases. One was a sheep that was lame on his back left leg. The owner said that he had been like that since birth which is probably true. However, the hoof was shriveled. He tried to compensate on the other leg, but the other leg was also going lame to the point of bending outwards at the stifle. It was a difficult case that we discussed at length. Should the owner have let the sheep grow to this age (over a year), or should he have euthanized at birth? There is no easy answer. If it were me, I would likely have said that this animal is not fit for transport and would have euthanized on the farm. While the legislation only says that the animal has to be able to walk in pain free, I would argue that this animal was clearly in pain. He could not put weight on his left hind leg, and his right hind leg was on the quick route to lameness. Unfortunately, the abattoir’s hands were tied. The owner only verbally told the OV that the animal was lame. He did not write it on the transport papers. Therefore, it would become his word against hers if he were to be taken to court. After slaughter, we looked at the limbs in question. The hoof of the left hind leg was shriveled and the claws were overgrown, but one could not definitively say that the animal was lame by just looking at the limb. If the abattoir were to pursue it, the limb would have to be sent in for full analysis of the joints to check for signs of arthritis and other pathology.
The other interesting case was a ram of some sort of mixed lineage. He had nice fluffy wool on his back and then some sort of ringlet wool around his neck and head which made it look as though he had a mane. We dubbed him Simba, because on top of that, he had a very hoarse call which sounded sort of like a roar. He had hemorrhagic discharge from his left nostril. After slaughter, we looked at his lungs. He had M. capillaris, but he also had extensive pneumonia. His mediastinal lymph nodes were also very swollen and hemorrhagic. In the end, his lungs were rejected for the above reasons.
We went through the carcasses as we did yesterday by looking at the organs (the cattle demonstrated some nice liver flukes, and the sheep demonstrated some nice Cystercercus tenuicollis and M. capillaris). We also discovered why one of the groups of Jacobs rams (all intact) had not been kept for breeding: they all had significant underbites. One of the Jacobs rams had four horns which gave him an odd appearance, especially since none of the horns were growing in the proper direction. The most exciting moment of the day came when the final steer was herded into the stun box. The massive Hereford steer went absolutely crazy when the guillotine door slid shut behind him. He tried to climb out of the stun box (the stun box walls are roughly 7-8 feet tall) and almost made it at one point which was rather nerve-wracking especially considering that he probably weighed well over 1200 pounds. The point where he almost went over the side was when they had all of the students leave the room, and not just leave. We were told to run! They were able to captive bolt him shortly after all of the students were safely out, and the rest of the day was much less exciting.
As our final exercises, we received instruction on the captive bolt gun, and each of us was able to shoot the captive bolt at the already processed steer heads. We also discussed the cuts of meat on the bovine carcasses. One of my favorite quips of all time came from one of the RVC students. When Dr. van Klink pointed out the Nuchal Ligament and said that it is known in the butcher world as the “Paddywack,” the student just said, “Is that what Irish policemen used to use when they arrested people?” The Nuchal Ligament is actually hardly used anymore except for dogs to chew on, etc.
After we were done, Pia invited me to go into Yatton with her and some of her friends. Yatton is a cute little village just by Langford. It is slightly bigger than Langford which is probably due to the presence of the rail station in Yatton. Pia introduced me to the charity shops in Yatton which are almost fashion boutiques especially compared to what we have in the US. The one that we spent the longest time in was run by the SPCA.
After the shopping, I met up with Dr. van Klink for another lecture. This time, we discussed HACCP. HACCP is another form of hazard analysis. It includes risk analysis but it is not the same thing. HACCP was actually developed through partnership of Pillsbury and NASA in order to prevent any sort of food borne illnesses and their subsequent, disastrous effects in space. It is a multi-step diagram that maps out every step of the process. While not the most thrilling of topics, HACCP is nonetheless a vital aspect of risk reduction and protection of the food change. It is a legally binding document, and producers and everyone else are expected to follow every detail of the plan. I also found interesting that laws have dictated that at every level, people are legally responsible for the safety of the food to that point. It seems as though it would be obvious, but with that change in the legal terminology, it makes protection of the food chain more cohesive.
June 18, 2014
Today was a very full day. We had a very large number of sheep and pigs to process. Most of the cases were fairly straight forward. The parasites were similar to the ones that we had already seen: C. tenuicollis, M. capillaris, and liver flukes in the sheep. The major thing that we encountered was a group of young lambs that had severe bruising all along their dorsal surfaces which is evidence of severe wool-pulling (tugging or grabbing at the wool in order to get the animals to move). This is a significant welfare problem, specifically since all of the animals were from the same farm. It is an opportunity to educate the farmer. The only lamb in that group that did not have wool-pulling marks was a lamb that had severe reactive arthritis in five joints. It is likely that the animal simply was not able to run away which was why it did not suffer from wool-pulling. The lamb with the severe arthritis was ultimately condemned due to the systemic nature of the arthritis as evidenced by petechiation in the kidneys. The pigs represented a few cases of enzootic pneumonia and milk spots as well. It was late morning by the time our section of the processing was done. After a short break for tea, we went to the museum for lectures from Andy and Pia.
The lectures were the same as I had heard the previous week. However, there was more information and Andy had a few different samples than he had previously. We also had a much more lively discussion regarding animal welfare and the vast differences between the US and the UK. Since there was an American among the RVC students, Andy took advantage of the opportunity to tease not one but two Americans! Pia’s lectures took us through more cases involving emergency slaughter and the role of the OV in England and the EU.
After the lectures, I had a short break for lunch before meeting with Dr. van Klink to go over a lecture on “Global and EU Policies.” This was basically a more fleshed out version of the material that I had received on a previous lecture on the EU. We discussed the original formation of the EU as well as how it has adapted over the years. I found it especially fascinating how political some of the chosen locations for EU headquarters is. For example, there are two locations for the European Parliament. In other words, for part of the year, the European Parliament is in Strasburg (France) and then at some point, it picks everything up and moves to Brussels for the remainder of the year. The Strasburg location was the original location. However, the Brussels location is much newer, larger, and state of the art as well as cheaper to run. The move alone costs millions of euros not to mention the millions of euros that it costs to keep the Strasburg location functional. However, France is not willing to give up the prestige as well as the local income (Strasburg is in a very poor region of the country that has been a disputed area with Germany for centuries) by giving up the location of the European Parliament. We also discussed the policies that dictate international trade and how certain countries want to be a part of the EU but do not necessarily want to “play by the rules.” One prominent example is Russia and African Swine Fever. ASF has been tracked as coming from Russia. However, Russia denies that ASF came into the rest of Europe (i.e. is spreading west) from Russia; yet, when ASF was discovered in Poland, Russia closed its borders and trade with Poland in a claim to protect its borders even though ASF is already in Russia and was there previously. It is important to remember that while the EU tries to operate almost as a country, the “country-states” are very much independent entities with long-standing national pride and perhaps even centuries long simmering tensions.
I finished the day with my new friends at a lovely dinner at a pub. I still find it incredible how welcoming and nice the students and faculty have been. They have pretty much accepted me as one of their own, and I sincerely hope to continue the friendships.