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Open Access Research article

Evaluation of Swiss slaughterhouse data for integration in a syndromic surveillance system

Flavie Vial1* and Martin Reist2

Author Affiliations

1 Veterinary Public Health Institute, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern, Liebefeld, Switzerland

2 Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office, Liebefeld, Switzerland

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BMC Veterinary Research 2014, 10:33  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-10-33

Published: 31 January 2014



We evaluated Swiss slaughterhouse data for integration in a national syndromic surveillance system for the early detection of emerging diseases in production animals. We analysed meat inspection data for cattle, pigs and small ruminants slaughtered between 2007 and 2012 (including emergency slaughters of sick/injured animals); investigating patterns in the number of animals slaughtered and condemned; the reasons invoked for whole carcass condemnations; reporting biases and regional effects.


Whole carcass condemnation rates were fairly uniform (1–2‰) over time and between the different types of production animals. Condemnation rates were much higher and less uniform following emergency slaughters. The number of condemnations peaked in December for both cattle and pigs, a time when individuals of lower quality are sent to slaughter when hay and food are limited and when certain diseases are more prevalent. Each type of production animal was associated with a different profile of condemnation reasons. The most commonly reported one was “severe lesions” for cattle, “abscesses” for pigs and “pronounced weight loss” for small ruminants. These reasons could constitute valuable syndromic indicators as they are unspecific clinical manifestations of a large range of animal diseases (as well as potential indicators of animal welfare). Differences were detected in the rate of carcass condemnation between cantons and between large and small slaughterhouses. A large percentage (>60% for all three animal categories) of slaughterhouses operating never reported a condemnation between 2007 and 2012, a potential indicator of widespread non-reporting bias in our database.


The current system offers simultaneous coverage of cattle, pigs and small ruminants for the whole of Switzerland; and traceability of each condemnation to its farm of origin. The number of condemnations was significantly linked to the number of slaughters, meaning that the former should be always be offset by the later in analyses. Because this denominator is only communicated at the end of the month, condemnations may currently only be monitored on a monthly basis. Coupled with the lack of timeliness (30–60 days delay between condemnation and notification), this limits the use of the data for early-detection.

Carcass condemnation; Post-mortem; Meat inspection; Slaughterhouse; Syndromic surveillance; Early detection