Sunday, 24th September 2023

Risking contaminated meals over unsanitary abattoirs, poor meat processing 

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
13 February 2022   |   2:42 am
The outbreak of infectious diseases such as cholera, brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis and other parasitic worms are frequent occurrences in Nigeria. Though many of them are

An illegal ‘slaughterhouse’ in the Ketu area of Lagos State. Inset: Tuberculosis-infested meat seized by officials of the Lagos State Government<br />during a raid of illegal slaughterhouses.

The outbreak of infectious diseases such as cholera, brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis and other parasitic worms are frequent occurrences in Nigeria. Though many of them are underreported, research shows that unsanitary abattoirs are sources of this public health concern, as many hapless Nigerians have contracted infectious diseases through the consumption of potentially contaminated foods, especially contaminated meat.

GBENGA AKINFENWA writes that more Nigerians are at risk of contracting these non-communicable diseases if steps are not taken to address the anomalies.

The rising cases of unsanitary abattoirs across the country are gradually posing serious health concerns. No thanks to the little or no attention accorded these facilities by concerned government agencies, and sundry stakeholders. 
Indeed, research has shown that some infectious diseases that plague Nigerians are traceable to the unhygienic methods of processing meat at these abattoirs.
Reports have indicated that to address the beef requirement of 200 million Nigerians, over 1.3 million cows are slaughtered yearly, as cattle alone provide about 30 per cent of meat consumed in the country. Cattle, therefore, contributes a critical part to the country’s food security arrangement.

Daily, cattle of different types, weights, and colours are transported into different parts of the country from the North, and neighbouring Cameroon, Niger Republic, Chad, and the Central Africa Republic, among others.
With the meat value chain being a thriving business, these herds of cattle end up in abattoirs/slaughter slabs scattered across the country, where millions of naira are generated daily. 
In addition to this, the meat value chain is also one of the informal employers of labour as thousands of people earn a living operating within it. They range from the butchers, carriers, transporters, tickets, to security personnel.
As good as the beef business is, it also has its downsides, given the litany of challenges and risks associated with the process of getting the cattle from the sellers’ stable to the slaughter slabs and finally to the consumers’ dining tables.
According to findings by The Guardian, the majority of Nigerians care or not about the source of the meat that they purchase in markets, neither do they worry about the cooked meat, which they buy in the cafeteria. 
The consequence of this failure to ensure that set standards are met in the meat processing process is the penetration of zoonoses into homes. 
This sad development that has been attributed to the rising cases of 
Across states, one of the major challenges present in almost all abattoirs, is non-adherence to standard rules of meat processing, especially in the area of sanitation, slaughtering facilities, handling and movements, which fall short of the stipulated meat processing standards.
Heaps of animal waste, including faeces, bones, and sundry remains are found near the slaughter slabs. This constitutes a serious health risk.
The continuous perpetration of this anomaly, questions the function, capability and responsibilities of veterinarians, who are saddled with the role of ensuring proper inspection and monitoring of meat at the abattoirs.
Veterinarians also known as veterinary doctors, or veterinary surgeons, are medical professionals, trained to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases of animals. 
They are also involved in food safety by ensuring that foods of animal origin are free of antimicrobial drugs and microbial agents that can cause diseases in humans.
A visit to the Oko Oba Abattoir and Lairage Complex, Agege, adjudged the largest in Lagos State, revealed that a groundswell of unwholesome practices is going on there unabatedly. 
Contrary to the standard rule of ensuring that all animals meant to be slaughtered must be inspected and certified fit for human consumption, The Guardian can confirm that none of those brought-in and slaughtered at the time of the visit were inspected before and after killed, despite the presence of a veterinary doctor stationed at the facility. 
It was also observed that the meat processing, sanitation arrangements, slaughtering facilities, handling and movement of the meat all fell short of the stipulated meat-processing standards.

Even though the Oko Oba Abattoir has, of late, experienced some kind of improvement in terms of hygiene, the situation is still far from what it should be. Only a few meters away from the main gate, visitors approaching the slaughterhouse are welcomed by a pungent, nauseous smell.

The part of the facility where live animals are kept is a bit neat, but the opposite side where butchers are selling stinks and is very untidy. 
At the slaughter slab, the concrete floor where the animals are slaughtered is completely covered with animals faeces and blood. Visitors that throng the facility thread on the bare floor (where animals are cut open) wearing the same shoes that they wore outside. 

Parts of the slaughtered animals including the fore and hind legs, intestines, necks and others are strewn carelessly on the ground where people walk, with hordes of flies feasting on the parts.
Another section of the abattoir, where hides and skin popularly called Ponmo, cow head, cow leg and tail are processed appears to be the dirtiest part of the abattoir. From this flank, bellows thick, black smoke emanating from car tyres that are burnt to remove hair from the animal skin.
At another slaughterhouse located in the Ketu area of the state (along Ikorodu road), The Guardian observed that chunks of meat are processed with dirty, stagnant water.
Apart from the fact that the animals are not inspected by experts before, and after they are slaughtered, tonnes of odds and ends from the slaughtered animals litter the entire area. The stench emanating from this mounting waste, coupled with the ugly sight speaks volumes of the unhealthy atmosphere.
Venturing into Cele abattoir from the road is an arduous task, as the wooden bridge linking that leads into it has almost given way. Unlike The Oko-Oba abattoir, which welcomes visitors with nauseous odour, visitors here are welcomed by swathes of buzzing flies.
At the facility, dozens of animals are slaughtered daily, next to a canal, where both human and animal waste is dumped. The unhygienic nature of the place also poses dire health concerns to butchers and buyers alike. 
Even though the Matori abattoir is not as smelly as both Oko-Oba and Cele abattoirs, it is also very dirty, and the entire area is littered with animal waste.
The state of the area is also pathetic, and ongoing construction works in the area also affects operations. But officials of the slaughterhouse insist that sanity would return when ongoing works are completed.
At the various cattle markets, where private slaughter slabs are being operated, there were no veterinary doctors, just as there were no provisions made for certification of the animals. 
Stakeholders are deeply worried that this high level of negligence could trigger the outbreak of a zoonotic disease or more at a time that such was unexpected.
Infectious disease outbreaks such as bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, cysticercosis and other diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans are frequent occurrences in the country, but not usually reported in an outbreak fashion, are traceable to meat consumed in-country.
Brucellosis is a highly contagious zoonosis caused by the ingestion of unpasteurised milk, undercooked meat from infected animals, or being in close contact with their secretions. It is also known as undulant fever, Malta fever, and Mediterranean fever.
Cysticercosis is a parasitic tissue infection caused by larval cysts of the tapeworm Taenia Solium. These larval cysts infect the brain, muscle, or other tissue, and are a major cause of adult-onset seizures in most low-income countries.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), emerging and endemic zoonotic diseases pose a threat not only to the health of animals and humans but also to global health security.
It is estimated that 60 per cent of known infectious diseases and up to 75 per cent of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in origin.
The global health body estimates that 91 million people fall ill yearly, due to foodborne diseases in Africa, of which more than 70 per cent are diarrhoea-related diseases, which can be easily linked to the unhygienic ways of meat processing in abattoirs.
It further noted that globally, infectious diseases account for 15.8 per cent of all deaths and 43.7 per cent of deaths in low-resource countries.
The WHO estimated that yearly, zoonoses are responsible for 2.5 billion cases of human illness, and 2.7 million human deaths worldwide each.
Emerging zoonoses are responsible for some of the most high profile and devastating epidemics. However, endemic zoonoses may pose a more insidious and chronic threat to both human and animal health.
The WHO estimated that unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. 
An estimated 600 million – almost one in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food, and 420 000 die yearly, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years.
It added that $110b is lost yearly in productivity and medical expenses resulting from unsafe food in low- and middle-income countries.
According to industry players, unsanitary abattoirs are sources of infectious diseases that may go unreported. Be that as it may, it was reported that countries around the world have experienced disease outbreaks linked to contaminated foods at various times. 
For instance, the 2017 Listeria outbreak in South Africa led to the death of 200 people.
The National Treasurer, Nigeria Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), Dr. Alao Mobolaji, confirmed to The Guardian that cases of zoonotic diseases are rising in the country at an alarming rate, described as unfortunate, the unavailability of statistics to back up his claim.
Recently, the Chairman of the NVMA, Oyo State branch, Dr. Adedayo Adejuyigbe, during an inspection exercise at the Central Abattoir, Amosun Village, Akinyele, Ibadan, also raised the alarm on the development, even as he established a nexus between lack of proper meat inspection and the outbreak of the diseases.
He, however, stressed that the benefits of the activities of veterinarians are not limited to animal health, but also extend to human and environmental health. 
According to Mobolaji: “Even though there is no statistics to back up the rising cases of zoonotic diseases because of our poor data culture, the truth is that they are rising at an alarming rate. This is attributable to the fact that while our population is swelling, our slaughter facilities are still largely rudimentary, and as long as this persists, this problem will continue. 
Second, the way we sell our meat remains unwholesome as we still have people hawking meat on streets in open trays, and tables in marketplaces. As long as this continues, diseases will increase because these meats are exposed to a lot of dust and dirt. Also, the unhygienic condition of butchers, market men and women can contaminate the meat, and the disease is further transferred to the whole household, and that’s why we have the prevalence of typhoid fever.”
Another area that raises health concerns across the value chain, experts say, is how meat is transported from abattoirs to the markets. More often than not, meat in transit is largely exposed to flies, while conditions in the market where they end up are also highly unfavourable. 
Unsubstantiated claims have it that some butchers use human urine to preserve beef till the following day once they are unable to sell off the day’s stock. Some butchers are also in the habit of using blood from slaughtered animals to freshen beef and make such wear a fresh look that is capable of luring buyers. 
These unwholesome practices, according to experts, have grave consequences on the consumer, as such meat are no longer fit for human consumption.
Findings by The Guardian revealed that animals declared unfit for consumption by veterinary doctors in the few locations that they are up to their responsibilities, sadly still find their way back to the market, from where the infirmities are invariably transferred to a human.
Mobolaji accused state governments of not paying necessary attention to slaughter facilities in the country, stressing the need for the establishment of testing facilities where basic tests can be conducted on the spot to know whether animals are laden with basic diseases like tuberculosis.
“Such facilities serve as where basic tuberculin tests on animals can be carried out with all amount of certainty, instead of waiting for animals to be slaughtered before such conditions can be detected. Pregnancy in animals can also be detected in these animals because it is not right to slaughter pregnant animals and thereby deplete their viable population. So, you can see that if the right policies are not in place, we’ll just be chasing shadow.”
The NVMA national treasurer claimed that the rules meant to ensure proper monitoring and control of abattoirs may remain ineffective in Nigeria unless the government puts in place a proper compensatory policy for butchers and animal owners.
He explained: “Primarily, the major challenge here is that if laws about meat inspection are going to be effective, there has to be a proper compensatory policy in place for the butchers. For instance, a butcher that has invested money in buying a cow, goat or sheep is doing that with profit-making as a motive. If a part of the beast that he has slaughtered is found to be unwholesome and not fit for human consumption by veterinary doctors, the butcher will resist this, and even protest. This has sometimes led to an outright faceoff between butchers and the vet doctors. This faceoff sometimes sees the butchers brandishing dangerous weapons to scare the medical practitioners away in a bid to protect their investment. Once this happens, there is little or nothing that the vet doctor can do. But if there is a compensatory policy in place that can, to a certain extent, reimburse the butcher when a beast is declared unfit for consumption, such face-offs would become infrequent and the impact on the value-chain minimised. 

Commenting on why condemned meats find their way to the market, the NVMA chief said: “Condemned animals still finding their way to the market boils down to poor monitoring and control. However, there is a saying that in the animal kingdom nothing is a waste as those parts that are condemned can be recycled for another use, including for feeding purposes for other animals, and in the worst case, can be recycled to be used as manure for agricultural purposes in a long term. So, once the meats are condemned, they should be condemned and taken to locations where they are recycled for other secondary uses.”
Recently, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), Dr. Ernest Umakhihe, blamed the stunted growth observed in the livestock sector on the widespread animal diseases. 

The permanent secretary, who said this at the Stakeholders’ Workshop for the Validation of the Draft National Contingency Plans for the Control of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), African Swine Fever (ASF), trypanosomiasis and tick-borne diseases in Nigeria, held in Abuja, noted that the country’s livestock industry has potential that should be harnessed for economic growth. 
He explained the development of National Control Strategies for the control of diseases was long overdue, adding that the national control strategy became necessary for improved livestock production and productivity. 
Umakhihe said for a profitable livestock business, the diseases needed to be controlled and eradicated. 
He, however, noted that a successful production venture is a contingent upon a well-established and functional veterinary service that is capable of delivering qualitative, timely and efficient animal healthcare services for the livestock population. 

“Anything short of this will continue to limit the contribution of livestock to national food security. Poor control of these diseases will ultimately result in gross insufficiency in animal products and huge import bills on meat and milk products,” Umakhihe added. 
He further noted that the rapid increase in the human population was directly associated with a corresponding increase in demand for food and other agricultural products. 
The Guardian learnt that the war to curb the spread of zoonosis may be very hard to win as diverse interests from private individuals and groups, who are benefitting immensely from the value chain, may make it impossible for the government to succeed.
This was confirmed by a veterinary officer at the Oko Oba Abattoir, who told The Guardian that it took the intervention of security personnel for him to escape when he was attacked by butchers for insisting that the right sanitation policy must be adopted at a section of the abattoir.  
An animal scientist, at the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Kaduna State, Dr. Iyiola-Tunji, A.O, linked the rising cases of zoonosis to deficient mechanisms to mitigate the entry of diseased animals, especially large animals – cattle, sheep and others into the country.
He said: “The function of animal scientists is from the point of biosecurity, mitigating against the entry of disease-infested animals. Currently, there are no mechanisms put in place in Nigeria. The mechanisms are not really in place, but there are things that we can institute to ensure that things work out well. Even though immigration officers that are responsible for such assignments are stationed at the borders, the porosity of the land borders may not permit them to successfully achieve effective prevention of zoonotic diseased animals from gaining access into the country.”
He noted that the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science (NIAS) is doing a lot in regulating the production of animals.
“The spread of NIAS is enormous enough to curb the spread of the diseases from other countries into Nigeria. 
“As it is, we are lucky never to have had any major outbreak apart from bird flu, we have never had issues with the larger animals bringing diseases into the country, but at this point, I will just encourage the NIAS to intensify effort on inspection of the animals, possibly at the point of slaughter. 
“At the point of entry, this may not be possible for land borders because of the porosity of the borders, which make it difficult to man all the sections. But at the point of slaughter at the abattoirs or slaughter slabs, I think a little more effort needs to be made by the NIAS in terms of encouraging the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) to generate visible quality.”