Saturday, 2 April 2016

Bad meat from Nigeria’s dirty abattoirs wreak silent havoc

Health implications of unhygienic meat

According to the Chairman, Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association, Lagos State Chapter, Dr. Mobolaji Alao, there are so many diseases that come from infected animals to human beings when such meats are consumed. He added that apart from the unhygienic environment that characterizes many abattoirs, over 61 per cent of all the pathogens known to man come from animals. “This is because all the procedures to ensure safety are not in place, so people get infected,” he added.

Alao, who is also a veterinary doctor, explained that illnesses such as typhoid and tuberculosis could be tied to unhygienic meat. He said, “And that is part of the reasons why cases of typhoid fever keep increasing because what causes typhoid is the bacteria called Salmonella Typhi and this bacteria is everywhere, especially in unhygienic places.

“Another disease like tuberculosis is common in cattle and pigs and that is where some people contact these things. Even infertility also comes from these animals too and that is why these ailments are prevalent everywhere and still increasing. The effects of having substandard or unhygienic abattoirs are enormous and that is why we need to rescue the situation to avoid needless agony. We can reduce crowds in the hospital if we take care of this problem.”

He explained further that slaughtering distressed animals might not be good for the body, because “When the animals are tired and exhausted, there are some chemicals that are released into their muscles, which make the meat not to be wholesome for consumption. But when you eat meat that is wholesome, you will get all the benefits of eating meat,” he added.

Another veterinary doctor, Effa Arikpo, said operators of abattoirs ought to maintain high standard of hygiene, noting that if these facilities were kept clean, cases of food-borne disease would be minimised.

He also advised butchers in the state to always ensure they purchase healthy cows for slaughtering, adding that there were diseases that could be contacted from infected animals.

Growing concerns for health of Nigerians over beef consumption

Many experts who spoke to Saturday PUNCH described what obtains in many abattoirs as unfortunate, saying to have healthy meat for the citizenry, order must be enforced and anti-mortem and post-mortem examinations should be carried out effectively.

“It is in this process that pregnant animals or those with infections are screened out because it is wrong to slaughter an animal that is pregnant, but you see that happening in some abattoirs and they sell the foetus to dog breeders and other buyers who use it to make food. From the way an animal is breathing, you could tell if it has tuberculosis, and some are even dead on arrival. These are the things these tests should reveal,” said Alao.

He pointed out that if there was order, infected animals should be screened out at the point of arrival, saying such would reduce the incidence of contamination because order encourages productivity and functionality. He said until the procedure was adjusted, butchers would keep harassing the doctors, who would also keep crying out.

He said, “The issue is that there is no compensation in place. There should be a compensating policy put in place that would empower veterinary doctors to issue a ticket after condemning a carcass. That would be easier and it will deter others from bringing cows with infections and it will ensure that infected animals are not brought to the place because butchers would know that presenting a distressed cow attracts a fine. Those butchers are investors who do not want to lose money, so they too would be careful when buying the cows. As a multiplier effect, cattle sellers would be constrained to only bring healthy animals to the lairage.”

Speaking further on the health implications of eating meat that are not processed in hygienic facilities, a family, child and public health physician, Dr. Rotimi Adesanya, said there there are many health effects of eating meat from unhygienic abattoirs and slaughter houses.

He said, “The first thing is that the meat must be certified okay by a veterinary doctor to ensure that it is safe for consumption.

“However, having meat from unhygienic places can predispose the person to various infections, like tapeworm, which can be from cow meat, and such could have been detected during examination of the animal by a veterinary doctor.

“Also, house flies and some other flies could bring fecal matter on the meat and some flies even leave their their larvae on the meat when they perch on it.”

He added that the people handling the meat, who do not observe the principle of hand washing, could also spread communicable diseases like typhoid, fever, cholera and dysentery to the meat.

Dearth of professionals

Alao, in his chat with our correspondent, said a major bane to the functionality of the veterinary doctors is the threat to their lives. He said there had been situations where their members were harassed by some butchers, which he said could stiffen their ability to discharge their duties well.

He added that the number of veterinary doctors in the country was grossly inadequate, which could make the work overwhelming. He said, “In Lagos abattoir, over 1,500 cows are slaughtered daily and we have just about 10 veterinary doctors. Are you telling me that one doctor can supervise 150 cows in three hours? Apart from the one at Oko Oba, there are many other slaughtering slabs across the state, without adequate inspection and these are the sources of the meat at restaurants and some homes. The problem needs to be addressed from the root.”

Meanwhile, the President, NVMA, Dr. Sunday Edgar, had at the 2016 Summit organised by the body, lamented the low number of veterinary doctors in the country, saying the effective fight against animal-to-man diseases depended on the number of the professionals in the country.

He, however, called on state governments to employ at least five veterinary doctors in each of the local governments in their states “to effectively combat disease transmission from animal to human.”

On how to avoid being victims of animal-to-man diseases, Alao advised that people should only buy meat from hygienic sources, saying even though such could be more expensive than what obtains in other places, such meats would be safer for consumption. “The saving grace for people is the boiling of the meat, else, only God knows what would have happened because there would have been more incidence of diseases transferred from animals to man,” he added.

The VCN has however said it had initiated the process of amending the Veterinary Surgeon Act to strengthen the process of accreditation or certification of abattoirs and that the bill to put activities at abattoirs under control will be represented to the National Assembly.

Read more on Punch