The meat we eat

Ahmed Shatil Alam writes about the sorry state of the slaughter houses in the city, where around 600 cattle are butchered daily to produce meat for citizens under unhealthy conditions

Kaptan Bazaar slaughter house. -Sanaul Haque

Kaptan Bazaar slaughter house. -Sanaul Haque

It was like any other summer dawn of the summer, with much of the city still asleep at 5:45am. But even at that hour when the sun had just risen, 10 cows were brought for slaughter at the Mohammadpur Krishi Market slaughter house, established, owned and operated by Dhaka North City Corporation. Within 40-45 minutes, the six member butcher group slaughtered each of the cows in a very narrow and a dirty slaughter zone, clogged with waste materials and congealed blood from slaughter during previous days as the spot lacks proper infrastructural facilities required for a proper slaughter house.

Also, the cattle did not get vaccinated before being slaughtered as there was no veterinary doctor around, although such a professional is required to be appointed by the city corporation as per the law, to monitor the slaughter and processing of the meat.

Furthermore, the current practice of slaughtering and processing animals at the old slaughter house makes it easy for the meat to become infected with germs and other hazardous elements, that eventually affects public health, who are the final consumers of the meat.

This situation is not exclusive to this slaughter house only. New Age Xtra visited a number of slaughter houses under Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC).

In the two slaughter houses at Hazaribagh and Kaptan Bazaar, New Age Xtra found both establishments suffering from similar problems as both had potholed floors and walls, which bear testimony that the age-old structures have not been refurbished for decades.

Meanwhile, the newly inaugurated Mirpur 11’s slaughter house, for which the DNCC authority spent Taka 30 crores while aiming to provide healthy and hygienic meat to dwellers of DNCC, was found in a better situation. The slaughter house has separate slaughtering chambers, a bio-gas plant to utilise the animal droppings and a rainwater harvesting plant to run the process in an environment-friendly and energy-efficient manner.

However, the newly modernised Mirpur 11 slaughter house also face some hurdles as it is not spacious enough for the slaughter of cattle. Also, its main entrance is being used as a pathway for members of the Bihari community living in a camp nearby. When asked about the issue, an official of DNCC informed that the provision was provided as a means of negotiation as the people of the camp were against the slaughter house being there initially.

According to the officials of DNCC and DSCC, there are four slaughter houses under the city corporations from where more than 600 cattle are slaughtered and from where around 20 percent of the city’s total meat are supplied.

Among them three are outdated and in severely bad condition. The butchers and staff, found in these slaughter houses, inform New Age Xtra that these three houses did not see renovations for many years.

Earlier, there were three more slaughter houses in Mirpur and Gulshan. These three were shut down by the locals due to the lack of waste management processes in these, said an official of DNCC.

According to the meat traders, around 3,000-3,500 cattle are slaughtered everyday in the city to meet the demand of meat in the city.

The time of slaughtering cattle is divided into two four-hour shifts – the first is from 2:00am to 6:00am and the second from 6:00am to 10:00am every day. The charges to slaughter a cow are Tk 50, buffalo Tk 75, and goat or ship Tk 10.

The abattoir in Hazaribagh is the biggest of all in the city, but lacks standard. A butcher said that more than 200 cattle gets slaughtered here every day, but the city corporation has left it uncared for, for quite sometime.

Lack of application of cattle slaughter laws gives butchers in most of the city’s kitchen markets the leverage to avoid going to the designated butchery and rather to butcher cattle here and there.

According to the laws, there should be facilities for medical tests before butchering any animal at the slaughterhouses which will also issue a standardisation certificate for the meat. All these cannot be done without a veterinary surgeon.

Officials at the city corporations said that due to the lack of veterinary doctors, the process only remains in paper. Both the city corporations have only one veterinary doctor, when the number should be 14, they said.

DNCC chief health officer Brig Gen AKM Masud Ahsan says that at the moment they have only one permanent veterinary doctor, who is now in leave for attending a course. He also informs that there are some vet doctors working for the DNCC with deputation from Department of Live Stock.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Veterinary Council registrar Emran Hossain Khan claims that both city corporations have six veterinary doctors of DLS, who are basically working on deputation.

He also adds that as the corporations are not sincere about the issue, they failed to recruit any veterinary doctors or establish modern equipped slaughter houses for years.

However, both the city corporations, each having more than 1.5 crore people, need at least 50 veterinary doctors in 10 slaughter house.

‘Due to these reasons, citizens are consuming “unhygienic” meat as most of the meat go unchecked and untested,’ he says. Apart from the slaughter houses, in almost every kitchen market meat businessmen are slaughtering cattle without testing and in a unhygienic situation, he informs.

Health experts also expressed their concern over the issue as the unchecked meat can harm the human body. Former Bangladesh Medical Association president Rashid-e-Mahbub says, it has been proved that some deadly diseases like anthrax and bird-flu from meat can cause death of humans. ‘Therefore before marketing the meat the proper standardisation of the meat by the doctors are a must,’ he says.

To know about it, this correspondent repeatedly tried to reach the chief health officer of DSCC Brig Gen M Mahbubur Rahman over phone. But he did not respond.

On the other hand, DNCC’s AKM Masud Ahsan says that they are trying to recruit more veterinary doctors. He adds that although the corporation has asked the government about the matter, they are yet to get any positive response.

Ahsan also informs that the DNCC plans to establish another modern slaughter hosue in Mohakhali by spending Tk 70 crores, soon. ‘We have budget and will, but due to the lack of areas in Dhaka, we have failed to establish more slaughter houses,’ he says.

Referring to the upcoming city polls on April 28, he says, ‘After the election gives us representatives from the people, we may then be able this crisis with help from them.’