Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The consumption of meat in Bayelsa State is very high. Residents take delight in consuming cow, goat and sheep meat. In Yenagoa alone there are three popular abattoirs in Swali, Opolo and Etegwe.
As delicious as consumption of meat can be, there is a danger. The reason for the danger is not far-fetched. The state of the abattoirs and the meat being sold to the public raises serious health concerns.
A visit to the Swali abattoirs showed that cows and goats are killed with little or no supervision from public health workers. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), underscored the importance of healthy abattoirs to safeguard the general well being of the public.
It stated: “The conversion of livestock into meat at the abattoir stage can be linked to various health and environmental hazards. Fortunately, these hazards can be contained if abattoirs function properly and produce meat according to stringent hygiene and environmental rules and regulations.
“In this context, one key responsibility of governments is to develop and provide for abattoirs and for the meat sector as a whole the necessary hygiene and environmental legislative frameworks. These need to be supplemented by regulatory systems (“directives”) to be issued by governments and designed to implement and strictly enforce the laws.”
This is, however, not the case in Bayelsa. A field visit by a joint team of Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO) and Environmental Rights Action (ERA) led by Chief Nengi James and Mr Morris Alagoa respectively was an eye-opener.
“This field visit was necessitated by the fact that unwholesome meat could be sold to unsuspecting members of the public; the consumption of which may have serious life threatening situations. It became more pertinent when it was rumoured recently that some dead cows were brought into the state with the intention to butcher and sell to the public.
“Without a vigilant and conscious populace in the absence of veterinary doctors to inspect and control related activities at the abattoirs; anything is possible at the expense of the public,” a joint statement by the duo stated.
There is everything wrong with the abattoirs in Bayelsa. There are no veterinary doctors to certify the health status of animals being killed. The hygienic status is nothing to write home about. This is dangerous taking into cognizance deadly diseases that can be contracted from unwholesome meats from abattoirs.
James and Alagoa added: “Veterinary doctors represent the eye of the public, giving confidence that all only healthy cows are slaughtered and sold to the public. This visit to the abattoir is also very significant considering the fact that most deadly diseases are traced to animals; like the Ebola. And unless checked, in order to avoid unexpected losses from sick cows, goats, sheep, etc, some might go ahead to slaughter unhealthy cows and sell to the public.”
Investigations from the three abattoirs in Yenagoa confirmed that residents are toying with epidemic from the consumption of meats that are not certified to be healthy. Cows are slaughtered without anybody representing the public interest. Also the abattoirs in Bayelsa have no clean water facility to wash the meats after killings.
At the Swali abattoir water from a river is used. This is the same river, communities around the area use to bathe and defecate. This has serious health implications for the people.
The CLO and ERA noted: “There are no veterinary doctors in the Abattoirs. Cows are slaughtered without anyone representing the public health interest. The immediate environment needs upgrading. There is need to fence and secure the Yenagoa main abattoir environment at Swali and providing the necessary facilities required in standard abattoirs anywhere.
“The water facility is not adequate to take care of the facility water needs, especially carcass washing. Using water from the rivers/creeks directly on the meat is unacceptable for health reasons.”
Further investigations revealed that the clash between officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and their counterparts at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has made it impossible for veterinary doctors to be posted to the abattoirs to monitor the killing of animals there. The officials of two ministries declined comments on the nature of the disagreement.
But chairman of the state Butchers Association, Dahiru Amadu, opened up: “It was very shocking to note that government agencies would prefer to take more interest in who collects revenue from the abattoirs than public health. We frown at this infighting of government agencies. If properly coordinated, abattoirs play vital roles in disease surveillance, inspection of animals and meat, and could protect the public from most infections, which potentially might occur following the consumption of unsafe, unhygienic, and unwholesome animal flesh.”
He said even without veterinary doctors, butchers tried their best to certify that animals being killed are good for human consumption: “We cannot allow our members to sell bad meat to people. We do not sell dead cows or meats not fit for people to eat. We also have family members consuming these meats so we would not sell bad meat to people.”
Hassan, a meat seller at Opolo said: “We clean our meats well after killing before selling to people. We also have internal mechanism to monitor ourselves and ensure we sell good meat to the people. God forbid that anything happens to people from the meat we sell we would all be in trouble and our market will spoil.”
For the CLO and ERA, government can do better to ensure that the meats from the abattoirs are fit for human consumption: “In the interest of public health, the Bayelsa State Government should step into the disagreement between the ministries of Agriculture and Commerce. If the operations of slaughter houses would be taken holistically, it would involve the ministries of Health, Environment, and Agriculture more than Commerce and Industry.
“This is so because, even though veterinary doctors specialise in animals; they are health practitioners. This is where they are linked with the health ministry. The Ministry of Environment should be interested on how wastes from the abattoirs are disposed or the sanitary condition of the immediate environment. However, the Ministry of Agriculture is more aligned to abattoir operations and veterinary doctors as it has to do with food.
“In the light of the above, the Ministry of Environment should, from time to time, send sanitary inspectors to ascertain the level of compliance with good hygiene practices and sanitary control.”