Very few customers and patrons of beer parlours where cow tail, cow leg or cow head pepper soups are sold know the source of meat they are served.
If they knew, very few would venture to taste it with a long spoon. New National Star investigations which spanned for some weeks revealed that residents of Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, are being served mostly unhygienic meat. In the territory, there are abattoirs otherwise known as slaughterhouses for animals under the agricultural services department of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) where meat meant for personal consumption is slaughtered.
It is also a place for livestock business. However, a visit to Karu, and Kubwa abattoirs reveals that the current state of the slaughterhouses in the FCT is generally poor; An unhealthy operational environment. At Karu abattoir, just behind the market is a large open area full of people and animals. It is located beside a mosque and an uncompleted building said to be another abattoir hall. An unpleasant odour oozes out to welcome anyone approaching the hall. The concrete floor inside the hall is completely covered with congealed and fresh blood mixed with faeces of the animals. At the old hall, the paint is falling off and most if not all the windows shattered.
Every day as early as 6am, buyers and sellers converge there for business. Operators of the abattoir are mostly young men wearing red uniforms and boots. Women are also deeply engaged in the meat business. They convey raw meat from the point of slaughter to customers who are already waiting at different locations within the vicinity. Women, mostly locals, said to belong to the Gwandara tribe work in the abattoir; they fetch water from nearby wells, stream or the water merchants popularly called mairuwa, to wash the meat, then the meat is brought out to the buyers who take the meat to the markets.
The workers move in and out of the abattoir wearing the same shoes they wore outside and animals are cut open on the bare floor of the abattoir. The drainage system inside the abattoir, though inadequate, is used to discard abdominal waste from the slaughtered animals. While the men wear red uniforms, women put on green dresses to differentiate them from other people. A source working in the abattoir said over 200 cows are killed daily in the territory. New National Star observed that the abattoir lacks adequate standard and potable water system. However, butchers rely on water sellers known as mairuwas, who bring water in jerry cans and drums.
The wastewater emanating from the abattoir is directed into gutters of adjoining buildings. This causes a stench that affects the neighbouring residents inviting flies, and diseases. The aspects of meat processing, especially in the area of sanitation, slaughtering facilities, handling of meat and its movement from the abattoirs are far from the stipulated health standards. The Kubwa Abattoir in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is bigger than the Karu Abattoir.
The slaughter hall contains a larger number of workers and cows slaughtered. Despite the bigger space, the hygienic conditions are also in terrible shape. Meat is dumped on the ground along with the blood and faeces of the animals. The process of getting the skin popularly called kpomo in is also the same as in Karu where the cow tail, legs and head are burnt in fire using used tyres. This is done at the back of the abattoir halls. New National Star gathered that to remove the hair from the cow parts, the meat is washed with hot water. The area is covered with thick black smoke, an uncountable number of animal skins are placed on the ground. Tyres are burned to start the fire and the skin parts are thrown into the blazing hot fire.
Also, beside the fireplace are large steel pots where animal skin is dipped. This is done to all the animal skins without constant changing of the water. There was no presence of health inspectors or veterinary doctors in the two visited abattoirs to check if the cattle were good for human consumption. Efforts to get an official reaction from the Health Department Services of the FCTA proved futile as nobody seemed to want to talk about the deplorable state of the abattoirs. However, a source told this Newspaper that veterinary doctors who are employees have been deployed to various locations where abattoirs operate in the FCT. The source said this was to ensure thorough compliance with the hygiene protocols put in place by the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Mohammed Bello.
An Environmentalist, Mr Will Odia, when contacted said the thick smoke generated by the burning of tyres and cow skin causes air pollution which subsequently produces methane gas that intensifies the greenhouse effect on global warming. According to him, when tyres are burned, they generate particle pollution, a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids, organic chemicals, metals or dust particles. Sulphur, which is added at the time of manufacturing a tyre to give strength to it, comes out when it is burnt. It is common knowledge that burning tyres in the open is extremely harmful to human health and the environment. The fumes emitted are packed with many toxic chemicals that vehicle tyres contain.
For Mabel Christopher, a medical doctor practising in Abuja, she stressed that the use of unknown water sources and car tyres for roasting meat meant for human consumption was very unhealthy, revealing that the state of the abattoir was not healthy. She also stated that the waste water causes malaria for residents living around. According to her, it affects the health of the workers. She said the occupational exposure to scrap tyre emissions results in significant adverse health effects such as irritation of the eyes, skin, mucous membranes and cancer.
She suggested that laws should be put in place to ensure banning of the use of burning tyres in meat processing while the use of personal protective equipment should be encouraged in abattoirs. She noted that the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 91 million people fall ill every year due to foodborne diseases in Africa, of which more than 70% are diarrhoea related diseases which can be easily linked to the unhygienic ways of meat processing in abattoirs.
According to her, some of those practices not only expose Nigerians to infectious diseases through consumption of potentially contaminated meat, but also are risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as cancers by consuming kpomo that is exposed to particles produced from burning tyres. She advised that meat should be thoroughly washed with salt after purchase before human consumption as the processes the animals went under can result in terrible health conditions when consumed.