The filthy and unhygienic state of abattoirs in many parts of the country is a matter of grave concern to the Nigerian public including veterinarians. This concern was recently echoed by veterinary experts at the second induction and oath-taking ceremony of veterinary graduates of University of Ilorin on Wednesday October 16, 2019. Speakers at the occasion lamented the unclean situation of most abattoirs in the country, saying they are not in compliance with international standards.
Speaking at the event, the Deputy Governor of Kwara State, Mr Kayode Alabi, who was the guest of honour at the occasion noted that human lives revolve around what we eat for survival. The deputy governor called on veterinary doctors to play critical roles in ensuring that animals are healthy and safe for human consumption for the country to purge itself of zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa. Tuberculosis, leptospirosis and anthrax are some zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted from cattle to humans.
It would be recalled that this column featured a related piece on this page early this year. Titled “AMR: A disturbing public health concern”, the piece which was published in the Daily Trust edition of Saturday February 9, 2019 focused on residues in meat deriving from veterinary drugs, growth-promoting agents and illegal preservatives that might be found in meat. Today’s discourse is concerned with the excessive microbial contamination of meat during routine slaughtering and skinning in addition to other preparation processes. The unhygienic manner in which butchers and meat sellers handle or transport beef is actually an issue to worry about.
One of the basic requirements of abattoir hygiene is to avoid contact between a carcass and the floor. To forestall contaminations, the carcass needs to be off the ground as soon as it starts bleeding. Experts say it constitutes no harm if the carcass’ skin has not been removed at the point of bleeding. However, it is necessary to prevent any contact with the bloid- floor once the animal skin is cut open or removed because contact with unclean surfaces is the main source of meat contamination, and floors are among the most contaminated surfaces.
Meat contamination can also occur in sheep breeds that have large amounts of wool. Cross contamination from hair to skin may take place if no proper equipment to assist the skinning process is not available. Hooks or gambrels attached to an overhead rail could be useful hoisting devices. Unfortunately, the situation in many slaughter facilities in Nigeria illustrates scanty or complete lack of carcass hoisting devices. Furthermore, careless evisceration that spreads intestinal content onto the meat surface is another common practice among local and rural butchers. Unhygienic discarding of abdominal wastes pollutes the vicinity of abattoirs. In the case of most slaughter facilities in Nigeria, an unpleasant and nauseous smell greets anyone approaching the area where an abattoir is located.
Other meat contaminations equally occur out of butchers’ ignorance or neglect of basic rules of hygiene, which altogether constitute a threat to food safety and consumers’ health. In many abattoirs, the slaughter slabs covered with animal blood and faeces are not regularly washed as required by hygienic rules. Many existing abattoirs do not have potable water system. People move in and out of the abattoir wearing the same shoes they wore outside. None use of disinfectants on slaughter objects and equipment is also a health challenge. All these are active elements in meat contamination. The failure by most local government councils in the country to properly manage and enforce existing sanitation guidelines for public abattoirs is largely responsible for the current regrettable state of such facilities. Although a fee is charged by local government revenue officers for every animal slaughtered, the state of abattoirs does not indicate that reasonable amount of money generated from slaughter facilities are invested back into them.
As consumers of beef at home and in restaurants, many Nigerians are at the risk of zoonotic diseases. We are not sure whether the meat we sometimes eat isn’t from diseased animals. We go to purchase meat from butchers without knowing the good, the bad and the ugly of the slaughtering processes the meat had gone through. Some of us would never have consumed cow skin (otherwise called kpomo), cow head, cow tail or cow legs if we knew how they were processed. One common approach for the preparation of cow skin into kpomo is the burning of used vehicle tyres to start the fire after which the skins are thrown into the fire.
Of course, it is not a consumer’s duty (and that is not even practicable) to find out when, how and where a cow was slaughtered because that is the responsibility of government at a particular level. It is the duty of veterinary officials and sanitary health inspectors or workers to ensure that the meat that gets to the public for consumption satisfies all sanitary and health requirements. Sadly, this is not what obtains today in most abattoirs. The presence of veterinary and sanitary inspectors to monitor slaughtering activities in abattoirs is, nowadays, an exception rather than the rule. This system has virtually collapsed. Allah (SWT) knows how many Nigerians have contacted tuberculosis and other infectious diseases due to this system failure. This should worry leaders at the local government level.
Unlike chickens, cows are too expensive for most people to individually buy and prepare for domestic consumption in order to escape the risks of unhygienic abattoirs. Abattoirs are therefore the common source of meat for most Nigerians. This is why there is need for relevant authorities to promote healthier abattoir practices in the country. We urge state governments to compel local government authorities to provide relevant professional personnel that will enforce existing meat hygiene laws as well as regulate meat slaughtering and processing at abattoirs. Veterinarians and health inspectors should ensure that slaughtering equipment are available while butchers are made to put on personal protective wears in abattoirs.
Aside of ante-mortem inspection and quarantine measures that should be applied, when necessary, to prevent diseased animals from being slaughtered in abattoirs; the system of compensating butchers and owners of diseased animals that are meant for slaughter should be revived. This will encourage them to surrender diseased animals to appropriate authorities for condemnation.
It may be time for government to start thinking of licensing competent individuals and groups to operate private abattoirs where there would be absolute compliance to health and sanitary standards. Remember, Nigerians need to eat healthy to stay healthy. May Allah (SWT) guide those in relevant positions of responsibility at state ministries of agriculture and health to collaborate and consider the state of abattoirs as a public emergency, amin.