Feature: Death for sale, horrible conditions in slaughter facilities
Thick, dark and dense smoke from burning lorry tyres made its way into the atmosphere. My eyes became teary from the smoke-inundated environment while my nose ran and I coughed intermittently.
An offensive odour emanated from pools of blood of slaughtered animals that had been left unattended to, leaving the facility with unbearable stench. Businesses of flies were virtually having a field day as they gloated on the meat and blood clots in the facility.
A number of bare-chested young men dragged slaughtered animals and meat from one point to the other, on the bare floor that had been contaminated with blood clots and other pollutants. I watched on as meat was thrown into the blazing fire prepared with lorry tyres.
This was the ugly sight that greeted me when I visited the slaughter slab at Turaku, a suburb of Ashaiman in the Greater Accra Region, on November 17, this year.
Located about three kilometres from Ashaiman, Turaku is one of the largest homes to hundreds of thousands of livestock that are transported from many parts of the country and neighbouring countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso for sale.
The slaughter facility in the area serves as a major source of meat supply to consumers in the Greater Accra Region and other parts of the country.
It was the seventh of slaughter facilities that I had visited on my mission to shed the light on the conditions under which animals are slaughtered and the meat prepared for consumption.
This is how the beef, chevon and mutton that many savour as a delicacy is treated at most slaughter facilities
I had earlier visited slaughter facilities located in some parts of Accra, such as London Market at Jamestown, Kaneshie, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Accra Central, Mallam Atta and Avenor.
My visit to Turaku and the other slaughter facilities showed that the chain of activities that go on from the point of slaughtering the animals, to transportation, to retail outlets for the consuming public pose serious health risk to patrons.
For instance, after four successive visits to the London Market slaughter facility, it was observed that the butchers had very little regard to meat safety as they left it uncovered, allowing flies to gloat on.
The facility had been engulfed with filth as piles of solid and liquid waste had inundated it, while poor drainage systems also created more mess.
The insanitary and unhygienic conditions in the slaughter facilities that I visited in Accra only paint a bad picture about how widespread meat safety issues are across the country.
The personal hygiene of the young men who handled the meat in these facilities was a major concern. Even more, they had not been taken through any certification process to enable them to ply that trade.
Public Health Act
The condition under which meat is processed for consumption is in sharp contrast with the requirements of the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851).
Per the act, a slaughterhouse shall have facilities such as a decent killing floor, a refrigerated storage room with a separate hanging room, and proper and adequate appliances for killing animals, cleaning and hanging of their carcasses.
Additionally, the act requires that adequate facilities are provided for heating water for removal of blood and offal, and for receiving the organs and fat, as well as adequate supply of pure water for flushing and general cleansing purposes.
Among other things, the act further demands that an approved sewage disposal system and method of waste disposal should be adopted to prevent a health hazard from arising.
It further mandates the Veterinary Services Department (VSD), the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and the local assemblies to have oversight responsibility over the safety and health of animals, safety of meat and personal hygiene and environmental safety respectively.
The VSD has the mandate under Act 851 to inspect animals to ensure that they do not have zoonotic diseases that could affect human populations.
The FDA, among other roles, is to ensure that there is proper sanitation in the meat chain, including the proper cold storage regimes for meat and medical certificates to handlers of the meat.
Health experts say that apart from death from food poisoning that could result from the consumption of unwholesome meat, consumers of such meat were also exposed to heart complications, harmful cholesterol, acnes and erectile dysfunction.
According to the Head of Public Health and Food Safety at the VSD, Dr Bashiru Boi Kikimoto, the practice of using lorry tyres to prepare meat in some slaughter facilities did not only pollute the environment because of the emission of toxic gases into the atmosphere, but also had dire health consequences for consumers of unwholesome meat.
He disclosed that out of the 4,198 diseases that affected human populations, 3,558 of them were zoonotic, including those that result from the eating of unwholesome meat from slaughter facilities.
“The fact is that we could order the closure of some of these facilities; but if we do so they will slaughter illegally somewhere and cause more trouble.
We are trying to send more of our men to the grounds to do inspection, but the challenge here is that we are handicapped in terms of personnel,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Head of Agro products and bio-safety at the FDA, Mr Roderick Dadey-Adjei, said the manner in which meat was transported from slaughter facilities to the market for sale posed serious health risk to the public.
“The Public Health Act requires that the meat should be transported in a chilled storage facility but most of the time, it is left bare for flies to hover over it and make it unwholesome.
“We still have slaughter facilities where lorry tyres are used for meat preparation instead of gas; but this practice is detrimental to health because of the toxic chemicals and other pollutants. In the name of food safety, it is important for conscious efforts to be made to improve these facilities,” he said.
The Public Health Act puts the mandate on local assemblies to establish good slaughter facilities that have proper source of potable water, lighting system, sanitation infrastructure and good floors for slaughtering animals.
It is important for metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) to collaborate with the private sector to put up and operate slaughter houses that will meet acceptable standards.
For instance, blood from animals can be processed into animal feed when there is proper public private partnership (PPP), especially in the wake of the government’s industrialisation agenda.
The FDA, VSD and other regulatory bodies must collaborate to enforce standards at the facilities and also crack the whip on recalcitrant meat handlers whose activities make meat unwholesome.