Experts warn of unwholesome meat processing, health implications
The Guardian learnt that aside tuberculosis and other common diseases transmitted to humans from animals, cases of typhoid fever, malaria parasite and chronic fever have been attributed to consumption of unsafe meat.
Medical experts have alerted consumers to be wary of bubbles and white spots in raw meats, identified to be animal tuberculosis, which might be automatically transmitted to humans if consumed.
From investigations, the problem appears to be in two phases-poor approach of supervising agencies and ramshackle state of slaughter facilities.
As good as slaughtering business is, it is plagued with challenges in the process, from cattle merchants through the slaughters, to the consumers.
Currently, majority of the slaughtering facilities around the country are either inadequate or unfit for slaughtering purposes.
Findings across the states, especially in Southwest show that most slaughter slabs are located next to major canals, and dump sites, where animals are killed in bare floor, with little or no sanitation. Meat is lifted using filthy carts, dirty head pans, motorbikes.
Due to poor water supply, the butchers are compelled to wash meat parts with dirty water from these canals. Eventually, the meat is exhibited in the market on dirty tables, with flies perching around them, making it unsafe for consumption.
Sometime in 2013, officials of the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Task Force raided illegal slaughter slabs in Ketu, Owode and Ikorodu areas of the state, where some of the operators were apprehended.
At a slaughter slab, located in Ketu area, The Guardian observed that a large chunk of unwholesome meat was processed with dirty, stagnant water.
One other thing observed was that all aspects of the meat processing, especially in the area of sanitation, slaughtering facilities, handling and movement, was far from stipulated meat processing standard.
Heaps of animal waste-faeces, bones and other items littered the place, threatening serious health risk, as stench emanating from the waste, coupled with flies were enough to cause an epidemic.
From carcasses seized, the veterinary experts of the ministry detected bright yellowish liquid substance on the head of a cow, which was later detected to be tuberculosis.
Former Chairman, Lagos State Chapter of Nigeria Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Alao Mobolaji, told The Guardian last week that butchers are in the habit of processing animals that arrive dead to the abattoir, “By pretentiously smearing them with fresh blood from another freshly killed animal, they inflate certain parts of the meat with air using a pneumatic equipment to make it appear bigger and heavier to enable them make more money. Another wrong practice is the slaughtering of pregnant cows; this act is known to deplete livestock population.
“But on the contrary, pregnant animals are slaughtered daily and even their fetuses are sold to people that see it as a special delicacy or to those who breed dogs. But all these dangerous acts can be largely controlled in a properly constructed slaughter facility with adequate supervision and proper veterinary public health service.”
Findings show that butchers are fond of using human urine to preserve beef when it is becoming stale. With this method, beef would remain fresh and unsuspecting buyers would be deceived to mistake it for fresh beef.
Another crude method of preservation according to sources is the use of animal blood. “The meat will be soaked inside a bowl filled with blood and will be left till another day. Most of the meat sold as early as 10am in some places are from such.”
A housewife, Mrs. Christiana Adeola, who narrated her recent experience to The Guardian, confirmed that consumers stand the risk of contacting diseases if they are not careful about the meat they buy.
Chairman of Lagos Butchers Association, Alhaji Malomo Baki Yusuf, who exonerated butchers in the state from such practices, said the Federal Government should be able to curb movement of infected cattle at the borders.
Mobolaji, who blamed government for the lapses, added that majority of the slaughtering facilities around the country are either inadequate or grossly unfit.
“Inadequate in the sense that they are not installed to the capacity of the number of animals they can conveniently slaughter daily. For instance, if you have an abattoir with a capacity for 100 animals per day, yet you are slaughtering 1,000 animals there. Automatically, supervision, inspection and effluent management will be a major problem, thus making the meat coming from such environment unwholesome for consumption, and invariably endangering the lives of abattoir workers and the immediate residence of the area.
“The mere act of selling meat on open tables, head trays or pan makes the meat unwholesome, as they are directly exposed to germs and other contaminant from the environment. Also, contaminated hands of prospective buyers and sellers alike also add to the bacteria load on this meat. This is why we advise our mothers who are regular callers at meat markets to desist from the act of touching meat during negotiations with butchers, in order to avoid contamination of both the meat and themselves.
“The veterinarian can only do so much if laws guiding meat hygiene and inspection make adequate provision for abattoirs to be set up properly with all the necessary functional units, butchers are properly trained and conduct themselves in accordance with the principles of safe meat processes, and meat is transported and sold under strict sanitary and hygienic conditions. There should also be strict penalties for non-adherence to these laws.”
Mobolaji, who is the Senior Managing Partner, Suave Konsult Limited, said if the proper processes are followed, with proper supervision, the challenges would be permanently addressed.
“In meat inspection there are two basic stages of examination that the veterinarian subjects the meat animal to before it is certified wholesome for public consumption. These are what we call the ante mortem and post mortem examinations.
“Ante mortem examination is when we subject an animal to upon arrival at the abattoir. This is conducted in a section referred to as the lairage. This is the port of arrival of the meat animals, where they are first rested and physically observed for possible physical and health related anomalies that could render them unfit for slaughter. Note that meat from stressed animals are often associated with decreased palatability. Or they have to be taken for immediate slaughter in case of animals with broken limbs. Other laboratory tests are conducted at this point to further ascertain the fitness of a meat animal.
“The post mortem examination on the other hand is conducted after slaughtering the animal. Here, various internal and external organs are closely observed for any sign of anomaly, especially for diseases of zoonotic importance. If found, such parts are removed, certified unwholesome and eventually destroyed. After this examination, the remaining unaffected parts are passed and certified safe for human consumption; it is then transported to the market and sold to the consumer.”
He advised that a compensation plan should be put in place to compensate butchers for any potentially harmful part of meat that could be condemned by the veterinarian during the routine process of meat inspection.
On his part, Chairman of Lagos Butchers Association, Yusuf, said Lagos State government has provided a facility at the abattoirs to rest animals for a period of one or two weeks, to certify they are fit for consumption before being slaughtered.
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