By Gerard Prinsen

Butchery in rural Moshi. Image: Gerard Prinsen

What does the future hold for meat safety in Tanzania?

The natural science researchers in LLH’s meat drivers project are considering the pathways that meat takes from the farmer to the consumer. As the market drives larger-scale and more intensive meat production, they want to develop a robust understanding of where and how hazards such as disease-causing pathogens enter and flow through what is called the ‘meat pathway’.

The social scientists in the project have a different approach. They consider the same trajectory, but focus on the various links in what they call a ‘meat value chain’. Each link represents the activities undertaken by a person or business to add value to the meat from their perspective as they seek to sell it for a price that is higher than the price for which they bought it.

Bringing these two different perspectives together is what makes LLH’s research so interesting and potentially powerful. Sample collecting and laboratory analysis form an integral element of the work to understand the meat pathway. However, it is also important to really get to grips with how people involved in the meat value chain perceive meat safety and risk. This is because in combination, the two complementary approaches can identify points of potential hazards (where pathogens can enter the chain) and help us understand the motives, values and beliefs of people owning or handling meat.

On the combined findings of pathway and value chain, the research can usefully feed into policies to improve food safety – an important objective of the project.

Sometimes perceiving risk is not so easy though. When we asked 64 interviewees made up of urban and rural butchers and urban and rural eatery owners in Arusha what their expectations were for major problems with meat safety in the future, the only consensus was that the picture will be a changing one. Very few interviewees in all four groups (between 0% and 18%) said they expect the situation to change little, or that they didn’t know what change would happen.

Urban-rural split

A sizeable minority of our interviewees said they expected major meat safety problems to emerge in coming years. Interestingly, the proportions in which they did so was based on whether they operate in an urban or rural environment, and not on the type of business (butchery or eatery) that they operate.

Analysis of our interviews shows 35% of urban butchers and 47% of urban eatery owners expect meat safety problems to increase (with 41% of both sets of urban interviewees expecting them to decrease).

“More serious events are going to occur in the future,” said one urban butcher.

“[Meat safety issues] will increase as every day we have outbreaks of new diseases,” said another.

For rural business operators the pessimism was markedly lower, with only 20% of rural butchers and 27% of rural eatery owners expecting a worsening meat safety situation.

“There will be no major problem in the future. Actually, I think they will be completely over,” stated one optimistic rural eatery owner.

Disease outbreaks

The general overall forecast of an improved meat safety situation though – from either urban or rural meat seller – is a curious one to consider as the vast majority of our interviewees (from 82% of urban butchers to 94% of urban eatery owners) also said they had no experience of major outbreaks of disease, nor had they any experience of problems with food safety.

Our interviewees were categorical when asked about this: “No major event of such a kind has ever occurred at my place,” said a rural butcher. “No major event has occurred here. I am sure, 100%,” said an urban eatery owner.

Of those interviewees (seven in total) who said they had experienced food safety events/problems, the majority (six) referred to just a single event or an issue with a single animal. “Yes, it’s happened once,” said a rural butcher. “The whole cow was condemned.”

The only interviewee who admitted experience of an outbreak of a zoonotic disease described the event in the past, rather than relating it to an ongoing risk. This urban butcher said: “There was an outbreak of Rift Valley fever, I don’t remember when. We were forced to close the service for a week or so.”

Preventative action

Many of the interviewees who denied ever having experienced food safety issues went on to volunteer explanations for why this might be, and these could be categorised in one of three ways:

  • Preventative actions by external agents (“This has never happened here because our meat inspectors are active and committed to their job.”)
  • Preventative actions taken by the interviewees themselves (“We clean every corner. That’s why there’s no bad smell from anywhere. You can feel the freshness, as if you are on the beach.”)
  • Unknown reasons (“No major event of such kind has ever occurred at my place … I don’t know why it hasn’t happened. It is the grace of God.”)

It might be hard to see how improvement on such a situation can exist.

Perhaps though, a note of caution may be advised when looking at our analysis. It is possibly telling that several interviewees spoke about major meat safety events – only these happened to others, or elsewhere.

For example, one interviewee said: “It happened in my neighbour’s butchery several years back, where a cow was sold and many people had diarrhoea. The butcher was put under temporary quarantine and the remaining meat was buried.”

Another said: “Since starting here, I have not come across such a bad incident. I heard of an outbreak of anthrax disease in Rombo District, but not here.”

Furthermore, when asked to consider factors that people in butcheries and eateries believe affect meat safety risks, they named many.  My next blog will consider what these risk factors are.

In the meantime, these meat-sellers’ perceived lack of any meat safety issues in the here and now is food for thought in a country known to be a hot-spot for bacterial zoonoses transmitted to people in the meat-to-consumer chain.

Read the next in this blog series: Ten factors that increase meat safety risks – and decrease it

Read previous blogs in this series:

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