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Professional Version

Antemortem Inspection of Production Animals


Kathryn R. Polking

, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

Reviewed/Revised Jun 2022 | Modified Nov 2022

Inspectors conduct antemortem procedures at the abattoir on the day of slaughter to identify and condemn animals that are unfit for slaughter and to note clinical signs or lesions of disease that may not be apparent after slaughter (eg, neurologic signs, labored breathing, lameness, or fever). The inspector observes animals both at rest and in motion. Animals may not enter any area of the facility where animals are slaughtered, carcasses are dressed, or edible products are handled until they have been inspected and found to be acceptable candidates for human consumption. The facility for antemortem inspection must have good lighting, as well as gates, chutes, and equipment sufficient to segregate abnormal animals for closer examination and proper inspection.

Antemortem inspection leads to one of three outcomes: passed for normal slaughter, passed as a suspect, or condemned. Animals appearing healthy are passed for normal slaughter. Animals exhibiting clinical signs of serious disease conditions that render them unfit for food are condemned. Included in the condemned category are all animals that are dead or moribund, or that plainly show clinical signs of any disease or condition that would necessitate condemnation of the carcass on postmortem inspection. Also condemned are animals showing clinical signs of CNS disease, or severe fever (body temperature of 41°C [106°F] or higher in swine, or of 40.5°C [105°F] or higher in cattle, sheep, and goats). In the US, all cattle that are nonambulatory disabled (unable to rise and walk) are automatically condemned as well.

Animals with clinical signs or lesions that do not warrant immediate condemnation can be identified as “suspects” so that their carcasses and viscera can be inspected separately. Animals that have reacted to a test for anaplasmosis, leptospirosis, or tuberculosis but do not show clinical signs can also be tagged as suspects. In some cases, animals may be set apart and held to allow recovery from minor diseases or to permit depletion of residues of biologic substances and chemicals. Animals that may have been treated with or exposed to substances that could make the edible tissues unfit for human food should not be slaughtered for such.

Animals suspected of having a foreign disease or parasite should be held and reported immediately to the nearest federal or state health official.

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