Tuesday, October 23, 2001

People unconcerned about meat quality

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Oct 22 – For all the non-vegetarian Hindus, the festival of Dashain is always the best time of the year as meat is synonymous to the celebration.

The festival is never complete without an exclusive preparation of different meat dishes. But, people tend to forget or have less time to think about the quality of the meat they consume.

Sacrificing male animals to Hindu Goddess Durga is one of the most important aspects of the festival as thousands of buffaloes, goats, cocks and geese are sacrificed in various temples as a part of the festival puja.

Professor of theology at Balmiki Campus Ram Chandra Gautam said that strict rituals should govern the sacrificing of animals, which people seldom follow. "The animal to be sacrificed should be healthy, strong and without any bruises and they should be slaughtered with least pain," says Gautam.

However, as amateurs carry out the most sacrifices in the temples and homes, the meat can be less hygienic.

And most of the local butchers here are found be practicing unhealthy method of slaughtering. They generally use small knives to kill animals and use little water to clean the meat.

Shyam Krishna Khadgi, a local meat sealer at Khichapokhari, said that the present market price of the meat do not allow them to use more hygienic practices in killing and treating the meat as it cost them more than what it cost at present.

"Those who advocate about quality meat should also be ready to afford the price," says Khadgi. "Why do people make a hue and cry when we are selling the meat at nominal profit."

But experts stress that quality should come first than the price. They argue that improper killing of animals make the meat substandard.

Dr Durga Dutta Joshi, chairman of National Zoonoses and Food Hygiene Research Centre (NZFHRC), has an interesting logic. "If the animals are killed while they are in stress or tense, then the meat becomes less hygienic," Dr. Joshi said.

"Even the animals can feel and their body reacts when they are in immense tension at the time of slaughtering," he said.

He said the animals sustaining physical and mental stress before slaughtering and killed in slow process make the meat less attractive, green, greasy, foamy, stiff, tasteless and difficult to cook.

Dutta said that the animals should be transported, kept and slaughtered without letting them feel stressed to produce the best of their meat.

A Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) booklet states that glycogen or sugar content of the muscle is high in healthy and well-rested animal.

If the animal is stressed before and during slaughter, the glycogen is used up, and the lactic acid level that develops in the meat after slaughter is reduced, it is said in the booklet. "The acid in the muscle has the effect of retarding the growth of bacteria that have contaminated the carcass during slaughtering and dressing, which obviously will have adverse effect on the quality of meat."

"It is also important for animals to be well-rested for 24 hours before slaughter," says the booklet.

However, the quality of meat in the market here is far from satisfactory as the majority of the shopkeepers sell unhygienic and substandard meat. No one has ever thought about developing a proper system of checking animals before slaughtering. And to make the matter worse, there is no provision of monitoring the quality of meat before it reaches to the market.

According to a data provided by Dr. Dilip Subba, a food scientist, Kathmandu is the largest market for meat, where people consume 368 buffaloes, 218 goats and 17,558 chickens every day.

There had already been an effort from Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) to construct a proper slaughterhouse for the last one year. It had even selected a location for the construction at the city’s ward No. 12.

But, locals there, who till now been involved in unscientific butchering of buffaloes, protested the KMC’s move. This has left the project in a limbo, further delaying the process of guaranteeing safe meat in the capital market.