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Poor meat hygiene threatens health of Lafia residents

A visit to the Lafia abattoir and its environment leaves one with memories of the poor hygienic condition of meat people consume on daily basis.

Following series of complaints by meat consumers and the Veterinary Council of Nigeria that there are only three standard abattoirs in Nigeria, findings have revealed that a lot of Nigerians are consuming meats that could jeopardize their lives. This piece examines the unpleasant practices at the Lafia Modern Abattoir by butchers.

A visit to the Lafia abattoir and its environment leaves one with memories of the poor hygienic condition of meat people consume on daily basis.

What is, however, irritating is that majority of the abattoir workers who slaughter and prepare these meats operate under the watch of supposed government officials – particularly the state and local governments, who generate revenues from the facilities.

A visit by Daily Trust to Lafia modern abattoir, renowned for cattle and ram sales, shows that the environment is filthy and unfit to serve as a standard abattoir.

From its muddy entrance and premises, the surroundings lack in the hygiene expected of a place where an edible as vital as meat is processed and sold to consumers from within and outside the state.

The tumultuous movement of cattle, vans, and motorcycles in and out of the abattoir on daily basis indicates the importance of the facility.

Our correspondent observed some porters carrying meat stacked in wheelbarrows from the slaughter house to close by sheds to sell, while others stuff meat in dirty sacks and bowls for onward loading onto waiting motorcycles.

Some children fetching blood from a slaughtered cow
Some children fetching blood from a slaughtered cow

It was a potpourri of activity where almost everyone traded gleefully but cared less about the filthy environment.

Cows are butchered on bare concrete floor, with blood and dung littering everywhere. This unwholesome practice has been the case since the abattoir was established 34 years ago.

Worried by unhygienic environment and unwholesome practice by some abattoirs, the Veterinary Council of Nigeria had raised the alarm that numerous Nigerians might be consuming meat that could be hazardous to their health, considering the unhealthy state of abattoirs across the country.

The Registrar of the Council, Dr. Marcus Avong, in December 2015 informed journalists that there were only three standard abattoirs in Nigeria, situated in Lagos, Borno and Nasarawa states.

He said: “Given that Lagos has a population of about 21 million, according to the National Population Commission in 2014, four million in Borno State and about two million in Nasarawa State, the addition of these figures give 27 million, which means that only 27 million Nigerians (about 16 per cent of the total population) have access to standard meat, while about 143 million Nigerians (representing about 84 percent) only access meat that may not be hygienic for their consumption.”

“We need to invest in animal genetics, in artificial insemination and modernize our abattoirs in the country,” he added.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in its 2019 report on ‘The future of livestock in Nigeria’ revealed that about 18.4 million heads of cattle are managed in the country, adding that 1.4 million tonnes of all kinds of meat are produced annually.

Some children fetching blood from a slaughtered cow
Some children fetching blood from a slaughtered cow

“The livestock sector constitutes a significant part of the agricultural sector, contributing around 1.7 percent to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product and about nine percent to the agriculture value added,” says FAO.

Speaking on the unhygienic environment of the Lafia modern abattoir in an interview with our correspondent in Lafia, the state commissioner of Agriculture and Water Resources, Professor Otaki Allanana, said animals are supposed to be examined and also undergo what he described as ante-mortem inspection by qualified veterinary doctors who will certify them fit for human consumption.

“The poor sanitary condition of the abattoir is unacceptable since the government is releasing funds for its maintenance. I challenge the butchers to complement government’s efforts because the maintenance of the abattoir is not just the duty of government or the ministry alone, but also the duty of those who are operating there.”

Director of Veterinary and Lives stock Services, State Ministry for Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr. Emmanuel Sunday, who spoke to our correspondent on behalf of the state commissioner for Agriculture and Water Resources, confirmed that the ministry had in recent times had series of reports about slaughtering of dead animals outside the    abattoir.

He explained that recently, the state government went round, especially Lafia metropolis, and arrested three persons in connection to the    slaughtering of animals outside the abattoir.

He decried such unhealthy conduct, and promised to launch an investigation in that regard, saying anybody found indulging in such act would be subjected to punitive measures to serve as a deterrent to others.

He said: “Animals to be slaughtered for human consumption are supposed to be kept in a lairage for 12 to 24 hours before they are slaughtered.”

He also confirmed that there are pot holes in the abattoir, noting that the ministry is doing its best to put the place in order.

He revealed what the state government collects an annual revenue N2.4m from the abattoir.

Alhaji Jibrin Yunusa, deputy national chairman butchers association, Lafia branch, said they slaughter about 70-80 cows and 150 goats per day.

“I have been selling meat here for 12 years. We pay N1000 for each cow slaughtered.”

He said the facility, which is under a contract, pays dues and taxes of N200.000 monthly to the Nasarawa State Ministry of Agriculture, calling on the state government to use part of the money to    clean the slaughter house and provide water.

“Wherever the government generates revenues from, it can render assistance there. So, the government can assist in renovating the    abattoir. We pay our dues regularly to the state ministry of agriculture and the Lafia local government also collect its own share of money,” he added.

On the lack of hygiene at the abattoir environment and its environs, Yunusa said it was due to the lack of water, adding that though they have two boreholes, none is functioning. He however described the allegation that they bring in dead animals as baseless and false.

“Any dead animals brought to the abattoir will not be allowed to be sold to any customer. We have a place we bury such animals,” he declared.

Also, the chairman of butchers association in the local government, Alhaji Ubarn Garba, said: “I have been working here for 17 years and what you see now could be said to be some kind of    improvement. “You can’t walk around this abattoir, particularly when it rains, without having your rain boots on. Government can help us to    rebuild this place.”

Surprisingly, he does not believe the filthy surroundings could contaminate the meat, claiming that the cattle are examined before    they are killed.

“We have a veterinary doctor who examines every cow before it is slaughtered. If it is sick, the doctor won’t allow it into the market,” he added.

“All the money goes into the pocket of the market management but they also pay taxes to government,” a meat seller, who identified himself as Musa Ibrahim revealed. But did not condemn the dirty environment in which he operates.

A dead cow being conveyed to the abattoir by a wheel-barrow pusher
A dead cow being conveyed to the abattoir by a wheel-barrow pusher

“We have challenges and our leaders are attending to them one after the other but I don’t see anything wrong with our environment,” he asserted.

Ibrahim’s claim that all was well with the surroundings is depicted in the manner he and his colleagues display meat on tables without any cover as flies feast freely on them.

Many of their customers were not bothered by the unsavory ambience either. To such customers, like Danjuma Isah, filth is a norm in any abattoir.

Mr. Isaac Ukpoju, a Lafia resident, said consumers might not be aware of the process that led to the meat they consume.

Ukpoju said that the relevant authorities should ensure strict monitoring of how animals are slaughtered and meat processed before it gets to the final consumers.

“Consumers should also ensure that when they buy meat, they wash and cook it very well before eating to avoid contamination,” he advised.

Also speaking, another resident, Mr. Abel Abogonye, said the abattoir needs to be upgraded, stating that apart from the    unhygienic environment characterizing many abattoirs, over 61 percent of all the pathogens come from animals.

He noted that illnesses such as typhoid and tuberculosis could be contracted from unwholesome meat.

“The effects of having substandard or unhygienic abattoirs are enormous and that is why we need to address the condition to avert unnecessary suffering. We can diminish crowds in the hospital if we take care of this problem.”

He explained that slaughtering distressed animals might not be good for the body, because “when the animals are tired and exhausted, some chemicals are released into their muscles, and this makes the meat unwholesome for consumption.”

He said biological contamination of meat could cause diseases such as staphylococcus aurous, gastroenteritis, typhoid fever, cholera, brucellosis, tuberculosis, Hepatitis A, B, C, among others.

“Cooking will not remove physical objects such as dust impurities, sand and stone on the contaminated meat. Similarly, cooking won’t    remove either biological contamination or chemical contamination. Cooking may kill the microorganisms but it doesn’t remove them,” he revealed.

The ‘I don’t care’ attitude of the butchers at the Lafia abattoir is responsible for consumers contacting various diseases associated with poor hygiene,” he said.

He appealed to the state government to constantly checkmate the activities of some of these butchers.