The 1900 Meat Supervision Act introduced a requirement for meat to be inspected at the time of slaughter. Only inspected and branded meat could be sold. This was followed in 1905 by the Milk and Dairy Supervision Act and the Pure Food Act, setting new standards for food hygiene and lack of adulteration. Other states soon followed Victoria’s lead.
From ancient times, various societies have required meat to be inspected for wholesomeness and have banned the sale of meat from diseased animals. By the late 19th century, in England and Europe, veterinarians had become involved in the inspection of animals for slaughter and in assessing the carcasses produced.
A report produced for Meat and Livestock Australia in 2008 detailed some of the history of meat supervision in Australia. It noted that the development of veterinary meat inspection in Australia was closely linked to the beginning of the export of frozen beef and mutton to England. Some early shipments were found to be unsuitable for sale owing to evidence of disease in the carcasses.
The 1900 Meat Supervision Act was among the earliest measures taken to ensure the quality of meat for both domestic and export markets. In the early 1900s, many butchers’ shops were still open-fronted, with the carcasses hanging where the air could circulate. In response to increasing concerns about food hygiene, New South Wales’ meat inspector reported in 1913 that all except five butchers’ shops in Sydney had enclosed premises.
In Melbourne in 1914, John Johnston, a certified Meat Inspector and a fellow of the Royal Institute of Public Health, issued “The Australian Handbook of Meat Inspection”. The handbook explained the anatomy of cattle, sheep and pigs and outlined inspection techniques and regulations. In 1925, the Commonwealth Department of Trade and Custom’s Meat Inspection Service issued a document entitled “Instructions Regarding Supervision and Inspection of Meat for Export.
The first textbook on meat inspection was printed in 1938 by Joseph Drabble, a Veterinary Officer in Charge of Inspection at the New South Wales State Abattoir and lecturer in Meat Inspection at the University of Sydney’s Veterinary School. It became the foundation for the production and inspection facets of the Australian export meat industry.