Poor regulations and even poor market system and environment are some of the problems affecting national revenue and citizens that consume local meat products, mainly from slaughtered cattle and pigs.
But the Director of Liberia Mission, Inc., J. Raymond Alpha, has strongly condemned the way local meat producers trade with consumers. In an exclusive interview with this reporter on August 10, he shared his perspective on how the local meat industry can to be transformed to meet modern standards.
The Liberia Mission, Inc., located in Blyden Town, Careysburg, is applying agricultural concepts as extra-curricular activities to school going kids. Some of the kids come from orphanages, while others are students from the Booker Washington Institute (BWI). The Mission uses huge portion of its 25-acre land for an integrated farming system that includes production of crops and rearing of animals, where staff on the mission teach teen-age students hands-on techniques of meat production.
Below is an excerpt of our interview with Mr. Alpha, in which he sheds his perspective on practice of meat production in Liberia.
Daily Observer: Please describe for us the standard operating procedure of meat processing.
J. Raymond Alpha: For piggery, the pig is first taken to the slaughter house where it is killed but one must ensure that the pig is not under stress and is killed unexpectedly. If it is under stress, the pig releases hormones that reduces the quality of the meat. After the pig is killed, it should then be cleaned, scaled (measured by weight), and brought to the butcher shop, where it is refrigerated, and later cut and packaged into requested parts for clients.
DO: What are materials that a butcher needs and what is their importance?
JRA: It is important that you use a stainless steel table to resist rust because meat can be contaminated both biologically and chemically. A table that easily rusts chemically affects the meat value. Also a tile table is ideal because it is washable and hinders bacteria growth. Gloves and aprons are also important to wear because the surface where the meat is going to come in contact with can be contaminated.
DO: What are the quality of packaging bags and why should local meat be packaged?
JRA: Transparent plastic made of polyethylene is recommendable, we also use it to package our meat. This kind of plastic is flexible and can be used to wrap all parts of the meat so as to avoid oxygen having direct contact with the meat. Oxygen supports the growth of bacteria on the meat; it brings coloration and bad odor to the meat. Also the air-sealed zip bag is another material used to packaged meat, which is preferred.
DO: What are the space criteria for meat processing and packaging?
JRA: A processing space must be free of insects including flies and cockroaches. That is the reason one must not use wooden tables in a meat processing space. Insects are always around wooden things. Huge attention must be given to the room temperature. Meat cannot be cut at room temperature (25 Degrees Celsius). However, since most[meat producers] cannot afford butcher’s room at the moment, refrigerator is the most affordable alternative and one must keep meat between 1ºC to 4ºC before cutting it into desired sale size.
Another thing is light; you want to make sure that there is not sufficient light ray touching the meat because it produces heat, this is why florescent bulb is recommended. You need ventilation for air to flow because if the environment or space is having a specific scent, that will dissolve into the meat.
DO: How can the local meat industry conform to these conventional procedures that you have disclosed?
JRA: Regulations must be put first. There are poor regulations in Liberia when it comes to food processing and how food gets into the market.
How food gets into the market needs serious attention but sadly, inspectors that are in the field just issue tickets for any violation. I think that there should be more punitive actions to just issuing tickets.
Stricter measures must be considered, especially when it comes to the local meat industry. For example, pigs and cows (cattle) are vectors of hog-worm, which is very deadly when contracted by humans. Therefore, any compromising on the part of inspectors puts the consumers’ health at risk.
Local meat on the market must have a source, it must be stamped as approved to be on the market. We are eating local meat without knowing where it is coming from. Sometimes animal would die (due to unknown causes) and the next day, you would see it on the market and that is bad for the local meat industry.
Serious regulation is needed for our local meat market. We need to know where the animals are being raised or farmed. Are the animals being inspected? If I have a farm, I need to show my license, certificate and my last medical report to show that my animals have been vaccinated or treated. There are some diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans and that is why people are getting sick.
Thirdly, meat need to be sold under a hygienic and sanitary environment. You cannot sell meat where there are flies all over the place and these flies release maggots. Also you cannot keep the meat in an environment that is not cold. Meat has to stay cold, but not frozen, because when the meat is frozen, it loses quality. The meat should not be stored at 0ºC, but at 4 ºC when in a refrigerator.
Although electricity is a problem in Liberia, however, a meat seller must have some reliable source of electricity because the meat needs to remain cold. What happens if all your meat are not bought in one market day? People go into the local industry to make money, therefore meat production is costly and you must do the right thing. Government must start to require farmers to be licensed in order to produce meat on the local market. It is all about systems, otherwise we will lose more money and even lose lives at the end, and that is bad.