Sunday, July 10, 2016
Although it turned out to be more of a challenge to get to the Langford House than I had hoped, I made it to my residence and settled in my assigned room. Tomorrow I am scheduled to meet my contact, Dr. Ed van Klink, at the abattoir in the morning.
Monday, July 11, 2016
To start the day, Alim, a student from Mexico, gathered me from my room and took me to meet Dr. Ed van Klink at the Langford Abattoir. Once we got to the abattoir the employees were already in the slaughter process for the swine that were being brought in this day. We joined Dr. Ed van Klink and Jessica, a girl visiting for work experience, in the abattoir slaughter room where we watched the slaughter process.
We started in the actual slaughter room, where the animals are stuck and bled out before being processed in an assembly line-like nature (of course, these animals are stunned/slaughtered by the employees in accordance within European regulations on humane and ethical treatment of animals). Mainly swine were processed on this day with a small group of sheep in the late afternoon.
Swine are slightly different from the other species in that they are placed in a scalding pit after they have been stunned and exsanguinated. This scalding pit facilitates in the removal of the top layer of skin and helps clean the carcass of external dirt and debris. The pig carcass is then dumped into a rotating machine the spins at a high enough speed to fling off most of the excess skin and will occasionally spit out loosened hooves. When the workers feel the carcass has rotated enough they will slide it out and pry off the remaining hooves, use knives to remove excess hair and skin, hang the carcass onto a rack, and rinse it off before sending it to have a post-mortem inspection.
After we had seen the slaughter room, we were escorted to the lairage (English for where they hold the animals pre-slaughter), where some swine and a few sheep were waiting in pens. We were told about how it is necessary for the OV to perform an ante-mortem inspection before any action is taking in slaughtering the animals. If the animal is slaughtered before an inspection is performed then that carcass must be condemned by law. Once the OV has made their ante-mortem inspection and approved the animals for slaughter the workers can get the slaughter process started. It starts with herding the animals into the stunning pen where they use a vice-like electrical apparatus called a “stork stunner” to immobilize the animal. Once immobile the animal is hoisted by a conveyor through a window into the slaughter room where right after they are stuck and allowed to exsanguinate.
After a long morning in the abattoir, I left to grab lunch at an on-site café with Jessica. We talked over a long lunch about how the education is different between the US and UK and how she is preparing to apply for veterinary school. When we finished she mentioned that she would be returning for dinner later tonight with Alim and said I should join them. I had no plans for, or ideas about, dinner at all, so I agreed without hesitation.
I was just exiting the building when I ran into Jessica. We chatted outside the hostel a bit before Alim welcomed us into the west wing of the hostel to prepare for dinner. Once I entered the kitchen I met more international students like me: Angelica, Ruvi, Francesca and Alessandro. After some conversation and congregating in the area we eventually sat down and had an Italian family dinner. There was much conversation, laughter, face-stuffing, and joy throughout the whole room.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
This morning we met at 7:00 AM in order to see the process of the animals being brought in for slaughter. Today was the day the University of Bristol and Cambridge University students started their 3 day shifts at the Langford House, and it was also the day that Pia, a vet from Norway, joined to help teach us. First, we were taken to a prep area where we had to put on overalls, rubber boots, hair nets, and hard hats. I know I am thankful for the hard hats because I have already banged my head multiple times on various objects. After preparation, we were escorted on a general tour of the abattoir, at the end of which we stopped in the lairage. Students were then assigned groups of animals to follow through the entire slaughter process from ante-mortem inspection until post-mortem carcass inspection.
First in this process, the animals are shuttled in groups from a holding pen to a stunning pen. The abattoir workers then use the big clamp-like device with electrical current running through it to stun the animals. The animals are then hoisted on a track and stuck in a method to make them rapidly bleed out. We watched as the abattoir employees used their experience and skill to turn this into a seamless process. During this process we were called over by Dr. Ed van Klink to a tray containing the alimentary tract of the ovine species. Dr. Ed went through a nice general overview of the GI anatomy of small ruminants and instructed us in its importance to prion disease. We were told that they always discard the ileum of the GI tract because apparently prion diseases tend to reside inside the Peyer’s patches located at this part of the intestines. Dr. Ed went on to inform us of the history of prion diseases and of the United Kingdom’s history and current status in relation to bovine spongiform encephalopathies.
After all sheep were finished with processing, the cattle were brought in next. A type of hydraulic head gate was used to immobilize the cattle and they were quickly stunned using captive bolt. To expedite that process the cattle were hoisted up and stuck to allow exsanguination. The remainder of the process was very similar to the sheep processing, excluding the fact that they always remove the head of cattle. The main reasoning behind removal of the head is because it helps prevent the carcass from being too large and dragging on the abattoir floor. A secondary reason is to allow students to inspect the head for any signs of cysticercosis, lymphadenopathy, or any other signs of pathology. Additionally, students were also instructed in looking for pathology in the various organs like the lungs, heart, kidneys, tongue, and skirt of the diaphragm.
Our instructors then brought out the captive bolt gun, which very much resembled a handgun. After a quick presentation on how to operate the gun safely we were allowed to practice using the gun on the removed cattle heads. When Pia was presenting on how to properly use the captive bolt gun she asked who had fired a gun before and what kind. I was stunned because only about two of 12 students had fired a gun. At that moment, I was definitely sure that I was not in the USA anymore. By this point it was late in the afternoon, so once we finished practicing the captive bolt and inspecting all cow heads we were released.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Today was a day that the abattoir does not slaughter animals. Instead of watching the workers stick and prepare the animals for inspection, we were assigned to do a mock full facility audit. I teamed up with a group of the University of Bristol veterinary students. After much rummaging through files and folders we did not find too much wrong with the facility. Since this is a relatively small abattoir and a teaching facility the auditors tend to be more lenient with their inspections. The major finding for the Langford Abattoir was that the paint on the walls and ceiling is chipping, presenting a possible public health concern.
The rest of the day was free for us to do as we please. After finishing, I met with a few of the people from dinner on Monday night for lunch. Then I explored around the small campus-like facility since it was a relatively nice English day. Afterwards I went back to my room to read and nap until evening.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
This morning we met at the wet lab for a change of pace. At the lab, we scrutinized 10 different specimens of various anatomical parts from various species. Our goal was to determine what the anatomical part was, what species it was from, what the pathology and pathological organism was (if there was one), and to determine whether these samples would be fully rejected at a slaughterhouse and what category of specified risk material (SRM) they posed.
After we finished at the wet lab we went over to the abattoir. They were just starting to bring animals in and today was a swine slaughter day. One of the abattoir’s clients brings in 80 pigs every week and the abattoir uses Thursday and Friday to complete the slaughter request. We split up into 2 groups, one to watch the slaughter process and inspect the offal, and the other group to inspect the carcass while learning about the different meat cuts of the UK. After the groups rotated and everyone seemed satisfied with what they had learned we retired to the break room to discuss our audit findings and case reports with Pia and Dr. Ed van Klink.
After the Bristol and Cambridge students had left, I was invited to sit in on a meeting between Pia, Alim and Francesca. We discussed their ideas for their projects at length and I was occasionally able to chime in with advice. Their topics ranged from animal welfare at the abattoir to entomophagy to similarities between international legislation concerning food inspection. Once the meeting was finished we headed our separate ways.
Once again I was invited to join my other colleagues for dinner, which I graciously accepted. It’s hard to pass up Italian home cooking when it is offered to you. After being served a delicious meal I was told that they were planning to participate in a trivia challenge and they suggested I should come join them. I did not hesitate to come along because I knew how much fun this could be. The place hosting the trivia game was just a walk up the street, so we finished cleaning up from dinner and walked on over to throw our collective hat into the ring. It was a fun-filled night of random facts of knowledge (far too much British trivia, if you ask me) that brought us even closer together and provided an unforgettable memory. Although, we didn’t win the trivia challenge, we did manage to enjoy ourselves more than enough for one night.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Today I was not required to come in to the abattoir, but I decided to spend a bit of time watching the employees slaughter the rest of the pigs from Thursday. After slaughter I went back to gather information on the group of pigs I was assigned to follow through the slaughterhouse on Thursday. After collecting the information I chatted with the slaughterhouse employees for a bit and returned to my room to work on my paperwork.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
The abattoir is closed on weekends so I got to take today off and relax. Around midday though, the other students in the hostel invited me to go into the city of Bristol with them.
We caught a local bus into the city and once we arrived we realized it was the weekend of the Harborfest. There was at least five times the normal amount of people roaming the streets of Bristol, making it busy and incredibly difficult to navigate. Our first destination was the St. Nicholas Street market. This was a lovely little open market filled with vendors selling trinkets of everything you could possibly imagine. There were so many vendors around that it was practically dizzying.
As we walked around Harborfest we took in the sights while dodging the hordes of people. We decided to break away from the crowds though and headed up a bit from Bristol towards Clifton. Our main goal was to find a nice little pub to socialize and enjoy ourselves. We ordered some drinks and a pizza while we sat outside in a garden. We chatted and joked around for a while before we decided to finally head back. Once we returned to Langford everyone went their own ways and retired for the night.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Monday, July 18, 2016
I went into the abattoir this morning to observe the slaughter process again and to assist Francesca in collecting data for her research.
First, I watched the abattoir workers for an hour as they repeated the same process of slaughtering and preparing the swine for their customers. One thing I learned was that the processing method differs based on what the client requests. Today was once again a day where they were just processing swine. It seems that similar to the US that more swine is processed than other general meat products.
Next, I assisted Francesca in observing the welfare of these pigs as they were housed pre-slaughter in the lairage. On occasion it seemed that the pens provided by the abattoir were too small, thus leading to some noisy and feisty pigs. Of course this is only a temporary housing solution, but it would be ideal for the pigs to have more room. In contrast, the abattoir was quite proficient in the stunning of the pigs and in their stun to stick time. The workers are extremely professional about the stunning and make sure to stun the pigs so that they are unaware of the whole process. Additionally, it takes only a matter of seconds for the pigs to go from the stun pen to being stuck for processing.
After assisting my colleague, I returned to my temporary office. At this point I worked on some reports about the inspections that were performed on pigs the previous week for the remainder of the day, only breaking for lunch with my colleagues.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Today was very similar to last Tuesday. However, I started out by helping my colleague in the morning, observing the animal welfare of the lairage as the animals were brought to the abattoir. Today was a bit busier, so there seemed to be a bit more issues to note. There was some overcrowding in the pens that may have contributed to increased vocalization or increased temperature/respiration. Additionally, there were some goats housed with sheep that kept bothering the sheep and ultimately leading the sheep to huddle in one corner opposite the goats. After enough animals had been slaughtered, they resolved this issue by separating the animals. Lastly, a bull suffered some sort of traumatic hoof injury while penned in the abattoir. Due to his scheduled slaughter and it being non-life threatening, the bull was just observed for any worsening signs.
Today was slightly different in that I served more as an assistant than I did as student. Since I had experienced the lessons last week I was able to help Dr. Ed van Klink and Pia in teaching the new Bristol and Cambridge students starting today. We went through the same processes of learning about prions and diseases that had other international implications. We were taken through the general inspection process of the carcass and offal once again. Lastly, we were lectured about using the captive bolt gun and allowed to use it on the cattle heads.
I was already familiar with the process of skinning cow heads from last week, so Dr. Ed van Klink and Pia encouraged me to assist the other veterinary students in locating anatomical landmarks of concern. It felt good knowing that I could put the previous week’s knowledge and experience to benefit those other than myself. It was pleasing to note that I was successfully able to help the students find all the important anatomy of concern with no significant problems. Once we finished with the cow heads we were dismissed and I returned to the hostel.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Today began just like last Thursday. I started in the wet lab where there were 11 specimens on tables for examination. Although some were the same as the last week, the majority were new and interesting. After we went over the specimens together, I stayed back a bit to talk with Andy (instructor who was leading the lab). We talked about his experiences in the US and what he thought about the comparison in animal welfare between the UK and US. After our short conversation, Andy offered to take me to his “museum” of parasitology specimens and I consented since my knowledge of parasitology was vastly limited to what I felt I should know. Once we got to where he housed his samples I was astounded. There must have been close to two or three hundred jars of various parasites he had found while he served as a meat inspector for his many years. It was an eye opening experience and makes you wonder why we don’t spend as much time on such an important topic.
When we finished at the museum, I went over to the abattoir to join Pia and the other veterinary students. At this time it was a similar process to last Thursday when the students got a chance to inspect pig carcasses and organs for any signs of pathology. Next we left the slaughterhouse to discuss the student’s audit results from the previous day’s inspection and case reports for the animals they followed through the abattoir. When the students finished I met with Pia, Francesca and Alim to have a late lunch.
Friday, July 22, 2016
Today was a relatively low-key day. In the morning I helped Francesca in collecting data about the swine welfare at the lairage. After we finished in the lairage, we returned to the office where I helped Francesca in translating her findings into English. It was actually a stimulating collaborative lesson. Though Francesca had an excellent grasp of the English language for a foreigner it was interesting to see just how many things can be lost in translation due to our different cultural backgrounds and traditions. This translation process took up the vast majority of the morning and we then went to grab some lunch from the campus cafeteria with Alim.
For the afternoon, Alim and I were scheduled to receive lectures from Dr. Ed van Klink. We met Dr. Ed van Klink in his office where he presented a presentation on risk analysis and how it is involved in the current processes at the abattoir. After risk analysis was an in-depth lecture on HACCP. It was amazing just how much these concepts I had only briefly heard about permeated not only the abattoir but also were set in place by the European Union and international organizations. We left once the presentations were finished and headed back to the office. At the office I finished some more translating for Francesca and we headed back to the hostel. Unfortunately, this was to be my last weekend in Bristol, so I wanted to make the most of it. As a result, on our way back to the hostel we scheduled to eat together this weekend and to play some squash or tennis if we had the chance.