BY KIKIOPE OLUWARORE
Ever wondered where exactly our meat (beef, goat meat, pork etc.) comes from? Of course, that is easy to answer: they come from food animals. But on a more insightful note, have you ever wondered where your meat really comes from?
Well, welcome to the world of ABATTOIRS!
An abattoir (also known as a slaughter-house) is a designated place or building where animals – usually cattle, goats, sheep and pigs – are killed and butchered for the intention of being processed as meat and food for public consumption. In another detailed definition, an abattoir is a special facility designed and licensed for receiving, holding, slaughtering and inspecting meat animals and meat products before release to the public.
Naturally, as a food processing institution, it would be assumed that the abattoir should maintain standard hygiene and safety as much as possible just as most of us take extra care of what we consume. Alas, a visit to most Nigerian abattoirs would be an experience that may perpetually discourage you from eating meat due to the gross unhygienic conditions and procedures.
I remember my first experiences in the abattoir – I was a fourth year student of veterinary medicine at the university and we were mandated to complete an internship at an abattoir. I remember I missed the first day of resumption and heard gory tales about the state of abattoir from my classmates. My thoughts assumed some exaggeration on their part, thinking “It can’t be that bad”. But upon resumption, what I saw with my own eyes was indeed that bad! The abattoir environment and main slaughterhouse was the filthiest I have seen till date.
The slaughterhouse floor and run-off gutters were filled with a gory mixture of blood, excreta, intestinal ingesta, water, and other putrefied biological waste. And the smell (oh, the smell!), would make your stomach turn irritatingly in protest. And as if this wasn’t enough, the slaughterhouse and abattoir environment was only cleaned every Thursday (only once a week).
It was also common for butchers to kill sick and moribund (almost dead) animals in addition to the apparently healthy ones. It was quite common to encounter more than a few intestinal worms from slaughtered cattle wriggling away into the pool of biological waste mixture described above. It was also quite common for the butchers to keep obviously infected meat and offal for public sale. Such meat would have been infected with zoonotic diseases such as worm infestations (tapeworms, roundworms, flukes), tuberculosis (such as fuku elegusi), Kirchi, etc. A protest against selling such meat by the veterinary or meat inspection officer might elicit hostility, fights or in extreme cases, a threat to the protester’s life.
The slaughterhouse was grossly disorganised, and any space or clearing that was just sufficient for the size of cattle was immediately utilised. Bulls and cows that were not ill enough to NOT protest were being tortured and mostly dragged into the slaughterhouse. On the other hand, some bulls are naturally mean-spirited and some were practically raced into the abattoir environment; so God help you if you happened to be walking aimlessly or directionless in the path of any of these cattle. And even in the midst of this total chaos and filth, it was quite frequent to see cooked food and snacks being hawked in the slaughterhouse, and these were bought and eaten there with reckless abandon. The animal health, public health and economic implications of these situations is very appalling, to say the least.
For a while now, there have been various media reports and outcries concerning the dilapidating and grossly unhygienic states of Nigerian abattoirs. One of the first documented media report was on the state of abattoirs and meat markets where the writer also described a similar typical abattoir scenario, urging government and veterinary professionals to take responsibility, improve meat hygiene and the state of abattoirs. Another media interview here provides an insight on these same scenarios in Abuja abattoirs, while including more details on the gross corruption and discrepancies that cattle traders and butchers face regularly. The interview also cited the government’s indifference towards these corrupt practices, and the lack of establishment of meat hygiene laws in abattoirs. Another media report and interview cited the registrar of the Veterinary Council of Nigeria (VCN) in stating that there are only three standard abattoirs in the country and very low number of veterinary and meat inspection officers in abattoirs. Another report described yet similar precarious scenarios at the abattoir, discussing how bad meat from Nigeria’s dirty abattoirs are wrecking silent havoc.
In positive news though, a media report here describes an interesting development by the Lagos state government in which illegal abattoirs are threatened to closure. Also, cold-vans have been introduced for meat preservation and distribution across the state. Though this system is still far from perfect or fully effective, it is a good start that other Nigerian states should emulate.
In the peer-reviewed journal published by Dr Nwata and colleagues, they discuss poor abattoir practices, challenges and prospects of abattoir operations, and associated poor waste management in Nigeria. According to their investigations, there are about 30 abattoirs, 132 slaughter houses and 1,077 slaughter slabs in Nigeria with a total annual slaughter capacity of 14,127,868 animals. This is a hefty number of activities that need close monitoring if Nigeria wishes to prevent and control disease outbreaks, improve food safety and promote public health
In light of these contending urgent issues, this is another urgent call to all stakeholders – including federal and state governments, policy makers, veterinarians, meat inspection officers, public health professionals, private sector, medical and para-medical professionals and the general public. Abattoirs are the major production sites of our widely eaten protein delicacies – beef, ogunfe, isi-ewu, inu eran, fuku, edo, pork and many others.
Therefore, this is an urgent call for us all to unite and effectively intervene in improving the state of our abattoirs and protecting our collective health. We need to answer this urgent call to establish meat hygiene laws and see them through to implementation.
We need to answer this urgent call to train and educate our butchers on standard hygiene and occupational safety in processing meat for human consumption. We need to answer this call to renovate our abattoirs to international, occupational and hygienic standards, and also set sustainable structures for future maintenance of our abattoirs.
We also need to answer the urgent call to protect the Nigerian human population from various infectious and zoonotic diseases that are gotten from unhealthy consumption of and unsafe association with food animals.
Furthermore, this urgent call is important for us to attain international standards of meat processing and food safety, and in fact make Nigeria a major exporter of meat and meat products to other countries, thereby generating another major source of revenue for our country. This urgent call is also another opportunity for to establish innovative economic solutions to managing and utilising the huge amount of biological waste and by-products that our abattoirs produce on a regular basis.
Everyone has to pay urgent attention to our abattoirs!
Everyone’s health would be affected if we don’t pay attention to our abattoirs.
Oluwarore is a veterinarian and a public health consultant. A graduate of University of Ibadan and a Commonwealth Scholar at the Global Health Academy, University of Edinburgh, she is the founder and project manager for MyAnimal,MyHealth, a veterinary and public-health consult that provides veterinary services and promotes animal/public health education and research.
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