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What is fetal bovine serum collection?

The commercial collection of fetal bovine serum refers to the collection of blood from fetal calves at abattoirs for the commercial production of blood serum. Because the blood of unborn calves has only been exposed to its mother’s blood coming to it across the placenta, fetal blood is free of micro-organisms and this gives the fetal (also spelled ‘foetal’) calf its commercial value.

The serum which is obtained from fetal blood, is used for scientific purposes such as vaccine production.  RSPCA Australia advocates the use of non-animal alternatives instead of blood being collected from fetuses and for these to be developed as quickly as possible.

There are welfare risks associated with the collection process and therefore it must be well documented with only skilled operators undertaking the procedure. The following are recommended minimum requirements:

  • Only export abattoirs registered to undertake the procedure should be permitted to collect fetal blood.
  • On-farm collection must not be permitted.
  • The collection must be overseen by the abattoir’s veterinarian.
  • Only trained and competent operators assessed by a recognised training organisation, are permitted to undertake the procedure and must also be proficient in euthanasing the calf.
  • The dam must be killed humanely prior to removal of the uterus and the calf must be dead at the time of blood collection by checking that there is no heart beat, breathing, or eye reflex, and the jaw and tongue are limp and the pupils are dilated.
  • A closed circuit television system must be in place to allow a clear view of the procedure at any time.
  • Records must be maintained of the number of calves who have undergone the procedure.
  • Late pregnant cows (i.e. within 6 weeks of calving) must not be slaughtered as the stress of transport and handling could result in a premature calf.

Where synthetic serum or another non-animal derived alternative exist, these must be used rather than the animal-derived product.

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Updated on August 23, 2021
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