Meat Safety

The Role of the Department in Meat Hygiene in relation to the Meat Hygiene Act 1980

The potential of meat to produce public health hazards has been recognised since Roman times and some form of meat hygiene has been adopted, either through religious taboos or some form of legislation, since that time.

Given the origins of the Colony, subsequently the State, of South Australia, it is not surprising that meat hygiene practices followed the pattern of those in England where the responsibility rested with Local Government.

This responsibility was formalised in two Acts of Parliament, the Metropolitan Abattoirs Act of 1908 and the Abattoirs Act of 1911 which gave Local Government Municipalities authority to establish an abattoir in which all meat and meat products offered for sale within that Municipality had to be prepared in the Municipal Abattoir and inspected by a qualified meat inspector employed by the Municipality.

As a result, Local Government Abattoirs were established in Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Whyalla, Port Augusta, Port Pirie, Mount Gambier and Port MacDonnell.

Another group of abattoirs, notably the bacon factories in the Adelaide Hills, which were not metropolitan abattoirs, were provided with an inspection service by the State.

In non-metropolitan areas meat was prepared in slaughter-houses operated by the local butcher and inspected, sometimes notionally, by local government health inspectors.

However, many export markets, especially in the USA, demanded an inspection service supervised by veterinarians. This service was provided by the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industries.

Thus by the early 1960’s three formal meat inspection services, and a somewhat less formal local government service, operated in South Australia. This inevitably resulted in anomalies, overlaps, inequities and inefficiencies.

In 1965, South Australia, alone among the States, took advantage of the Commonwealth Meat Inspection Arrangements Act which enables the Commonwealth to provide a meat inspection service for a State or State Meat Authority. This resulted in a rationalisation of the meat inspection service in South Australia over the following years.

During the early 1970’s in particular, a number of significant changes occurred in the meat industry, due to increases in:

  • The intensive management of livestock pre-disposing to salmonella and other diseases associated with high stocking densities
  • The mobility of livestock and meat products due to improvements in transport
  • The use of mechanical meat processing machinery
  • The quantity and diversity of smallgoods and ready to cook meals
  • The number of take-away food shops and restaurants
  • The trend towards cooking meat less before eating.
  • The number of country butchers peripheral to Adelaide who supplied “Country Killed Meat” to city customers

The above changes, which were not accompanied by the relevant improvements in meat hygiene standards and practices, indicated the need to review the current standards & practices.

In 1975, a Meat Industry Bill covering all aspects of the industry from slaughtering to marketing was drafted. This involved the establishment of regional abattoirs. However, Samcor, which was perceived as a regional abattoir, was incurring considerable losses annually. The Bill was therefore rejected by Cabinet.

In May 1976, the Minister of Agriculture established an Interdepartmental Committee to report on options for the implementation of meat hygiene standards in South Australia. The departments were Agriculture & Fisheries, Public Health and Premier’s.

The Committee reported to the Minister in February 1977. Its principal recommendations were:

  • The enactment of a single piece of legislation covering all aspects of meat hygiene in South Australia.
  • The repeal of the Abattoirs Act
  • The amendment of other Acts relating to it
  • The Samcor Act
  • The Local Government Act
  • The Health Act
  • That responsibility for meat hygiene be vested in the Minister of Agriculture with responsibility for implementing the Act vested in a Chief Inspector
  • The adoption of two categories of establishment; abattoirs & slaughterhouses
  • That all meat for human consumption be inspected
  • That pet food establishments be included in the legislation
  • That, while poultry meat hygiene was not within the Committee’s terms of reference, it would be appropriate for standards to be included in the legislation

This report formed the basis of the Abattoirs & Pet Food Works Bill of 1978.

There was considerable resistance to the implementation of many of these recommendations not the least of which came from the poultry meat industry which was aware of the questionable standards in some parts of the red meat industry, and did not wish to be included in the same legislation.

The Bill was debated in Parliament and referred to a Select Committee of the Legislative Council but lapsed following the State Election of September 1979.

In November 1979, a Joint House Select Committee was established to enquire into and report on matters relating to meat hygiene. The Committee reported to Parliament in March 1980, the Meat Hygiene Bill 1980 was introduced to, and passed through, Parliament, receiving Royal Assent in April 2008.

The Act provides for:
The establishment of a Meat Hygiene Authority with three members,

  • a Chief Inspector appointed by the Minister of Agriculture
  • a person nominated by the Minister of Health
  • a person nominated by the Local Government Association of South Australia

The establishment of a Meat Hygiene Consultative Committee.

  • A single inspection service, provided by the Commonwealth, for all abattoirs
  • Improvement of hygiene and construction standards of slaughterhouses and restrictions on the sale of meat prepared therein
  • Licensing of Pet Food Work
  • The legislative changes listed above

Poultry Meat Hygiene was to be covered by a separate Act, the Poultry Meat Industry Act.


Report on meat hygiene in South Australia. February 1977. South Australian Department of Agriculture.

Hansard 1978-1980.

Chatterton, The Hon Brian: Personal communication.

Page Last Reviewed: 20 Nov 2017
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