Id & Trace  UK

                                                                                           Providing traceability solutions for meat producers

NEWS - EDITORIAL                                                                                back to slappers & more

Food traceability, provanace and due diligence, all words banded around by the media, and sometimes rightly so. At the very least, food producers have to ensure that the food they produce is fit for consumption, and be

prepared to prove it.

Traceability of livestock through the food chain is probably one of the hardest to fulfil, with live animal and

carcass identification just a part.

Here, the pig producer should  fare better than most as pigs mature to slaughter weight quickly and tend to be

raised in batches within closed environments, with even our outdoor raised pigs kept in isolated communities.

Further, current legislation requires identification only when those animals leave their farm of origin, and then

only with the farm’s DEFRA issued herd mark, and not with individual numbers as with other grazing animals.

Pigs are easily able to take a skin tattoo on the shoulder without undue stress and as the skin is not removed as

part of the slaughter process the mark is still evident for identification in the abattoir chiller.

Primal markers, whether tattoo or flat stamp not only relate herd mark (on the shoulder) to the other sections

of the carcass, but also carry far more information, kill date, meat type, processor code etc. Onward

traceability through butchery plant will then use bar code or smart label on a box or carton.

It would appear an extremely inexpensive and simple exercise, however, there is no standard allocated to the

markers used, with even the farm assured agencies only checking that the producer has slap marking

equipment, but not whether they can use it properly or whether it is fit for the job.

It should cost around 2 pence to slap a pig to the highest standard, ensuring that the carcass can be readily

identified through to the chiller and beyond.

Surprisingly, it still costs around 2 pence to slap a pig that hardly shows a mark at all!

The introduction of legislation in 2003 meant that all pigs leaving the farm of origin for slaughter have to be

identified, which opened the equipment flood gates, with resale merchants importing slapping equipment from

all over the World. (Maybe this equipment works on pigs from Southeast Asia)

Starting in 1985, then 1995 and again in 2008, we conducted trials to ensure our equipment  was up to

scratch, and each time we found that pigs and farming requirements had changed, therefore each time further

developing our equipment to suit.

It was during the planning of the  Aujeszky's scheme in Northern Ireland  that we were first asked to develop a

six digit slap marker, but even then they only required one shoulder to be slapped. Mind you, our made to

order within 24hr service was proven  when one of the two commercial abattoirs burnt down and all their pigs

“exported” to Malton Bacon’s factory in Yorkshire, supplying slap markers en mass by motorcycle courier.

Now both shoulders are required to be identified, quality of equipment is paramount, kept clean and in

working condition, with herd marks on the slapper head kept condensed to ensure the transmission of herd

mark even if the shoulder is convex when applied.

Most equipment works when new but can deteriorate rapidly, with even our Professional character plates

requiring replacement every 2500 pigs. Not because they have broken, but because the pins will be losing

sharpness and requiring more impact to leave a good legible mark.

Just as important is the tattoo paste or ink. Both paste and ink appear to work well on a new ink pad, but as

the pad wears out ink seems to fare better, although this seems to be because you now have an ink reservoir,

no longer an absorbent pad. For this reason we advocate changing the entire ink box at least every year.

Paste or ink. As far as I am concerned the jury is still out, but for sure, if you leave the top off the paste tin and

use an ink pad past its best, ink will suit you better. It’s not even a cost issue, it’s just that ink is so messy.

How far you make the ink or paste stretch seems to also have a bearing on legibility of mark, certainly if you

wish to see nice black tattoo marks. As a rule, if you are making a litre of paste or ink go far beyond 1500

pigs you probably aren’t using enough.

The above is based on a typical unit yearly producing 5000 pigs to bacon or pork weight. Therefore requiring

4 litres slapper tattoo paste or ink. 1 ink box complete and 2  replacement slapper tattoo character plates per


It’s only through development, education and discussion that the traceability issue will improve, and with this in

mind I would be happy to hear  from anyone with their own views or experiencing problems here or abroad..


Edward Holt      Id & Trace  19th November 2009

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