Time to focus on our meat industry and our health

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By Eugene Nweke

The picture we see on daily basis in Lagos and in several states of the federation, suggesting or assuming an approved minimum standard procedure for slaughtering and butchering of life animals for human consumption in our dear country is rather pathetic. In Lagos for instance, the shorelines along lagoons, canals, muddy buffa-zones serves as a veritable animals slaughtering and butchering centers. It is from these centers that the 80% of the reported and projected 10,000 live animals (cows, goats, sheep etc.) being slaughtered on daily basis in Lagos takes it journey to all the markets in Lagos.

Additionally, on the account of unemployment, many youths now engage themselves in the street hawking of meat (using sand packing head pan or tray pan to stock meat, while carrying it on the head, calling on the doors of occupants in a given neighborhood). Equally party makers purchases as many live animals as they so desire, get an uncertified butcher man to slaughter and butcher the live animals within the neighborhood, all in a show of class. Only few goes to an animal husbandry to purchase, slaughter and butcher the animals in the farms, then transport same to the point of use. A disgusting sight it is when you visit the butchering centers and see how the meat packers backs (on their sweating naked body or on an overall butcher coat which are not hygienic) and lifts the dissected animals from the killing floor near the shorelines to the butchering table.

Based on a field survey carried out at Alaba Rago market, at Ojo – Lagos, a peep into the sources of the majority of the live animals being slaughtered here and there in Lagos, shows that a higher percentage of the projected 10,000 animals comes (transported by conventional trucks) as follows: from neighbouring countries – 45%; Northern States =35%; farms within Lagos areas =15% and other states (west, etc.) =5%. This Survey report is based on interviews, as such it serves as an estimation which can be improved on.

The point canvass here, is solely HEALTH CONCERNS, that is,  the level of quality of inspection and issuance of clean bill of health, whereby certifying that most of the animals transported into the country are healthy for human consumption. This is against the background of the level of compromises discovered during our trip from Katsina to Maladi cattle market in Nigel (Niger Republic).The use of motorcycle, wheel barrow and other unhealthy means of transporting meats from the slaughtering centers to the markets abounds.

These days, it is easier for anyone who picks interest in the business of ‘Meat Selling’ to setup a table in a given busy bus stop, purchase, transport and display meats on such table, then Lagosians embarks on care free patronages without recourse to health implications.

The import of this is to underscore the health implications or hazards associated with the meat business in Nigeria, Lagos in particular. This piece is deeply concern with the standards regulatory compliance which is the core obligation of the Government in relation to the enhancement of the meat Industry vis-a-vis official designated centres, setting industry rules, approve applicable healthy handling equipment, transporting modes/procedures, recommend minimum age limit to be attain by a butcher man, screening process and certification, butchering processes, procedures, compliance issues and sanctions. Approving the standards building of Abattoirs, all of these should ideally be the deep concern of the government.

Having gone round to ascertain the level of equipment and functionality of abattoirs across the states, this modest sincerely believes that, the Ministry of Health through her agencies need to wake up from slumber to help and save Nigerians. We saw a near international standard and a minimum standard Abattoirs building structures in Bauchi and Plateau States, among 10 States visited. Their functioning is entirely another issue.

This modest, will not delve into qualities and health issues associated with meat importations into the Country, but will rely and dwell on most of the reported health hazards notable in the Meat industry, the essence is to awaken the consciousness of the Health Minister and our Health Ministry, and the state Governors and their Commissioners to be proactive in this regards.  There is an urgent need to carry out a further study and articulate  social conditions for all the meat industry workers, especially the packers, butchers, processors, etc.

Before getting to that, it is important to state categorically that our meat industry has not been given the adequate attention it deserved. The necessary corresponding supply value chain has been compromised and many are nonexistence. For instance, smoked and canned meat sectors; meat processing /storage sectors; meat equipment/accessories sectors; meat labelling sectors; meat shops, meat transports services; milking sector etc. and government is not looking inwards to exploring the meat industry for job creation and revenue concerns.

The Meat Industry Hazards/Challenges – Underlining Reasons for a Proactive Regulatory Consideration:

The following items are curled from case studies as referenced on the subject matter;

a). Sick Animals: Ideally, farmers are the source of animals supply for the meating businesses all over the world. As such, it is the duty of farmers to separate cows that have developed lumpy jaw, or sick or dried up as a result of old age. This category of animals  require serious medical and healthy inspections and certifications before human consumption, but over there they are taken to sector where they are canned, but in our setting, such category of animals are reduced in market sales value, transported, slaughtered and consumed with little or no inspection.

b). Feeding Animals with Whiskey Malt (Breweries Refuse): This particular animal feed is referred to as ‘steely’ – because it is covered with boils that were full of matter. At the killing floor, a cow fed with it; once you plunge a knife into the belly of the cow it burst and splash foul smelling stuff into your face. You can then imagine where a butcher covered with blood, already soaked with heat/sweats and then in grappling with the splash of the ‘steely’ over his face, now uses his blood smeared sleeves or steeped hands to clean or wipe’s his face, so that he can see very well, the thoughts of eating such meat is enough to make someone sick, how much more the butcher himself. The meats are actually eaten because these are the ones they canned and ship to other countries outside their own. Given similar scenario in our country, such meat are flush up and dumped on the butchering table, then dissected and sold off.

c). The Practice of Embalming Beef – Very Dangerous; From the above ‘steely’ feeds stuff, how to sale out animals feed with such stuffs leads to the practice of embalming beef, lying the beef in the cellars for months/years, where the national authorities outlawed the local sales and distribution of such MEAT within such country, the option is to ship it abroad. It was reported that during war time, it was such canned, shipped and eaten beef that killed several United States soldiers many years ago.

More Insight on People Working in the MEAT Industry – Need to Increase Safety Measures and Health Insurance;

a). The Pickle Rooms – The workers in this section are mostly at the risk of  scraping their fingers, while pushing trucks in the Pickle Rooms, such scratch or scrape fingers develops into sore, subsequently all fingers may be eaten by acid, one by one, by and by.

b). The Beef Boners And Trimmers – The Beef Boners, Trimmers and any other workers that handles knives are at risk of cutting or slashing their thumbs or fingers. Their hands are often criss-crossed with cuts, to the extent that you hardly see nails on their fingers. This is because their finger nails had worn off, in the process of pulling hides: their knuckles swollen and finger spread like fan.

c). The Workers in the Cooking Rooms – The workers in the cooking rooms are always in the midst of steams and sickening odours, also they grapples with artificial light. It is obvious that in these rooms, the germs of tuberculosis might be living therein for two years, while supply is regular.

d). The Beef Lugers – The workers who carries the meat into the refrigerator vehicles. This is the most fearful sets of work. It wore out the most powerful worker in a matter of few years.

e). The Chilling Room Workers – This sets of workers suffer from acute rheumatism. The time limit approved for a man working in a chilling room is five years.

f). The Wool Pluckers – They engage their bare hands to skin the butchered animals, some pull out sheep skin (wools), as the pelt of sheep are painted with acid or chemical to aide loosen the skin faster. This acid/chemical over time eats their fingers off, just like the workers in the Pickle Rooms.

g). The Machine Stampers – The workers who work at the stamping machine stands are at the risk of chopping off their hands, in the face of any careless application.

h). The ‘Hoisters’ – These workers whose tasks is to press the lever which lifts the killed animal from the floor, suffers their own peculiar hazards.

I).  The Fertilizer Men – The Fertilizer Men and these workers that serves in the rendering rooms are always put off from the presence of Public/Customers, because the odour steaming from them will scare the visitors away.

j).  The Tank Rooms Workers – The workers in the full steaming tank rooms grapples with their peculiar trouble of falling into the ‘vats’, in fact they are not good for public exhibition when they are fished out.

k). The Tin canned Beef Worker – The workers who engage in the tin canned meat processes also suffers cuts.

l) General Note: Any cut can cause blood poison, also mixture of contaminated blood of a butcher or meat workers is more health burden to the public, worst still, an HIV positive butcher or meat workers.

Conclusion:

The essence of detailing on the imminent hazards inherent in the meat Industry is not to scare the authorities from evolving and revolutionizing the industry from its present state in our country but that the authorities should understudy and learn from the mistakes of other countries and reconsider the dangers inherent in its efforts to uplift, position and align the Nigeria meat industry to global standards amongst the comity of meating industry.

If the present practice in the country is subjected to thorough investigation, by the combination of environmental and health assessment experts, the government will come to terms with the gravity of health risks living with us.

Finally, we wish to reiterate that the meating industry is a beehive of supply value chain activities that can provide much employment opportunity to young Nigerians and create room for even national development.

Dr. Eugene Nweke writes from the Sea Empowerment Research Centre – RGT with head office at Amuwo-Odofin in Lagos State.

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