A new evil is rearing its ugly head in the meat business!
Some abattoirs, butcheries and illegal meat traders are putting the lives of the public at risk by selling contaminated meat, The Sunday Mail Society has established.
Late last year, authorities had to close several butcheries after this publication unearthed rampant use of embalming chemicals as meat preservatives to counter the adverse effects of load-shedding.
This time, it is even worse.
Our investigations indicate some greedy farmers that are losing cattle to January Disease (Theileriosis) and anthrax, are quickly directing the carcasses to the market for human consumption.
With over 50 000 cattle having been lost to a combination of the aforementioned diseases since last year, livestock owners are finding it difficult to come to terms with outright loss of their investments.
Thus, in some instances, they are disposing cattle that start showing signs of infection to unsuspecting meat traders.
Some of the farmers and traders are actually conniving to sell carcases or disease-ridden cattle.
Statistics show that close to 100 people were hospitalised countrywide in January for health complications that developed after consuming meat from unofficial sources.
In most instances the meat was anthrax infected.
According to health experts anthrax symptoms in humans depend on how one is infected. They can range from skin sores, to vomiting and shock.
Prompt treatment with antibiotics can cure most anthrax infections though inhaled anthrax is difficult to treat and can be fatal.
A Mashonaland East-based meat dealer, who preferred anonymity, confirmed that unorthodox trade practices were taking place.
“I personally have been working with the veterinary office for some time now. In fact, I have come to understand that not every disease that affects cattle is harmful to humans. Thus, I use discretion inspired by experience every time. It would be unfortunate to dispose, without gain, cattle that die, say of because of a tick-borne disease, for it does not affect humans if consumed,” said the meat dealer.
However, chief director for preventive services in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Gibson Mhlanga, quickly dismissed these sentiments by the meat trader.
“People should not be tempted to consume dead or infected cattle because of greed. It creates serious health complications that at times have a fatal ending especially if the animal died because of a disease like anthrax. Instead they should report any cases of infected or dead animals to the nearest veterinary department so that they get proper assistance,” said Dr Mhlanga.
The Government official added that they were cognisant of the fact that some unscrupulous dealers were involved in the illegal meat trade, particularly those affected by disease.
“The veterinary department and other relevant authorities like police, environment and health officers have been assigned to effectively deal with this matter. We are also doing awareness campaigns in different communities aimed at highlighting the dangers of consuming or selling of contaminated meat,” said Dr Mhlanga.
A Hwedza farmer, Mr Takunda Mandaza’s recent attempt to offload infected beasts to a local abattoir were thwarted by Veterinary Services Department officials.
The farmer considered the decision to be “sabotage aimed at making him incur losses due to death”.
Another case involves a reputable butchery (name withheld) in Harare that was recently raided by the police and health inspectors. This was after a concerned citizen had tipped law enforcers that the owner had acquired infected cattle from a nearby village.
Often the filthy meat stock is sold under the “special offer” tag so that it quickly vanishes from the coldrooms before meat inspectors can be alerted.
Equally, the number of people selling “cheap” meat products on street pavements, car boots or in high-density areas has increased over the past months.
Just last week, Friday night to be precise, there was a red Nissan X-Trail along Mbuya Nehanda Street selling beef.
Further down the street and on the pavement of a popular supermarket were men and women selling different meat portions.
It was also the same case at Mbare Musika last Saturday where a youthful woman was selling “affordable beef” stashed in a strikingly dirty vessel.
The lady refused to reveal the source of her product after we interrogated why it was astonishingly cheap by angrily retorting: “Muri kuda nyama here or makutsvaga zvimwewo? (Are you after meat or something else?).
Her beef cuts were ranging between $20 and $35 per kilogramme — slightly cheaper than the street prices in Harare’s central business district that were around $40 per kilogramme.
The minimum average meat price for low grades in registered retail outlets is around $60 per kilogramme. Interestingly, there are a number of vendors with gas tanks around town that are selling roasted T-bone steak pieces for as low as $15 when a similar portion costs not less than $40 in a modest eatery.
What is disheartening, though, is the willingness of some members of the public to expose their families to health hazards.
“What should I do? My kids have gone for weeks if not months without eating meat. This is what I can afford,” said Mai Chantel in the downtown area.
Efforts to get a comment from the Department of Veterinary Services were futile as the director, Dr Josphat Nyika, was said to be out of the country on official business.
An alternative contact person at the same department was also not reachable by the time of going to print.
However, the veterinary department is on record as saying: “The sale of meat outside a registered butchery is an offence under the Public Health Act that is administered by the Ministry of Health and Child Care. The public is discouraged from buying meat at informal markets as they risk contracting anthrax and other diseases.”
One of the leading abattoirs in Mashonaland East, Binder Abattoir, is assisting Government to address the challenge.
“There are farmers offloading infected cattle on the market. Accordingly, we have set aside some of our resources to assist in killing and safely disposing of sick animals that cannot be treated in our area to avoid further spread of disease as part of our community social responsibility. We are burning the carcasses to prevent unscrupulous traders from selling the meat for human consumption,” said Binder operations director Jamie Nel.