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For years, the idea of how meat and meat products end up on our plates everyday tends to be very mysterious.  As large number of   consumers fetch their meat from our local markets and slaughter houses, information with regards to the conditions of the animal, conditions of the farm, the slaughtering and packaging processes plus the meat distribution channels tend to be unidentifiable  and non-traceable. Transparency with regards to the flow and share of production information  tends to be shortened  and/or perhaps  non-existent.

Food safety in general and meat safety in particular are prerogatives that must be enjoyed by everybody. In this vein, the Ghana’s Food and Drugs Law of 1992, (PNDCL 305B)  has been stipulated to regulate and ensure that business activities such as manufacturing, importation, exportation, distribution, the use and advertisement of foods, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices and household chemicals are managed in line with safety, quality and efficiency procedures.   In particular, the Part 7 of the Ghana’s Public Health Act, 2012, Act 851, of the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) is authorized to assure the safety of animal products and feed, the regulation of slaughtering facilities and operations, the storage of frozen animal products, the  processing of meat,  the transportation of meat and meat products plus the processing of feed for fish, poultry and livestock. Regardless of these directives,  issues of negligence with respect to safety and quality checks  plus little or no flow of information with regards to the supply chain, whether intended or not, create communication gaps which eventually pose production challenges. In perspective, the effect of these have been proven by research to arouse social, economic, health and environmental consequences.

In the era of food security by sustainable means, vis-à-vis on-going research conducted  to mitigate food loss and food waste with a great  consideration  of an anticipated 9 billion people to be fed by 2050, food in general and meat in particular are expected to be available, affordable, accessible and traceable from the farm to the plate.  In this regard, production activities must be traceable to the farm gate, where a full chain of custody would be followed to enable the final product enjoy minimal or less contaminations and waste.

With a profound interest in food safety and food quality, I made a trip to the Ashaiman market one Saturday to discover how meat is processed for the consumer. At the market, I was approached by a taxi fully packed with cow meat exposed to all sorts of microorganisms. In a few minute, I saw a butcher removing from a taxi,  a bare cow thigh which he carried on his shoulder. To climax this scene, I witnessed a rickety wheel barrow loaded with two slaughtered cow heads swimming in a pool of blood exposed to all sorts of bacteria and houseflies.

With chills running through my veins,  I drew close to enquire from the butcher where their source of meat supply came from. In a hoarse voice, he answered Tulaku  at the Ashaiman  Municipality in the Greater Accra Region.

On my arrival at Tulaku abattoir, I was approached with some unimaginable and uncomfortable scenes. From a distance, I observed a herd of cattle grazing on a limited pasture where a couple of weak ones were unable to graze well. Besides, feed supplements such as industrial by-products were not available to make up with the demanded forage quantity. Hence, these cattle had to travel outside the kraal under very high temperatures and for long distances in search of pasture. According to a herdsman, some of the animals even get killed by cars whilst others get stricken by heat strokes and other illness that are left untreated.

Therefore, it is without doubt that meat and meat products from such animals might have the tendencies of being unwholesome for human consumption.  Besides, for the sake of expensive veterinary care, some of the animals suffer until their death whilst others undergo foot and mouth diseases.

What is more, most kraals were made of cheap building materials that provided barely no shelter at all. Again, the waste and water management systems were in a very deplorable and non-functional state leaving animal droppings unmanaged and scattered all over the place leaving strong stench and waste.

Another horrifying sight was to observe animals being killed on the bare ground and their fur being burnt with lorry tyres. In fact, this sight was by all standards a misnomer and perhaps the most dirtiest place to prepare meat for human consumption. Much more, equipment for holding, processing, storing and distributing the meat to the various outlets were not in place.

After forty-five minutes of observation, it was without doubt that the poor sanitary conditions, the huge number of uneducated herdsmen coupled with the highly unhygienic practices were highlights of the fact that food quality and food safety directives were not  priorities observed in the production line.  Apart from the fact that these sights were unsanitary, the deplorable state of the Tulaku-Ashaiman abattoir was nothing to write home about.  It is therefore against these backdrops that meat traceability and certification is an urgent practice for meat production in Ghana.

AUTHOR: Patricia Akyeampong


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