By Tabitha Hrynick
In my first blog, I explored some of the material challenges faced by Livestock Field Officers (LFOs) in northern Tanzania as they work to ensure red meat safety. In a series of further blogs, I now ask, just how, in the face of so many obstacles, do these policy actors and enforcers actually get things done?
Drawing on data from field observations and a set of in-depth interviews with LFOs, other state actors such as Health Officers (HOs), and people working in animal slaughter and meat sales we explored how these policy enforcers carry out their work on a day-to-day basis.
It didn’t take us long to notice that LFOs and other actors were employing a range of formal and informal strategies, some of which might be considered unorthodox. Lacking significant ‘hard power’ with which to address non-compliance, and without the resources to be everywhere they need to be, LFOs and HOs described engaging in processes of negotiation and training with livestock owners, slaughterers and butchers while remaining sensitive to local social norms and material realities.
At the heart of all of this is trust. In this blog, we consider the role of training and selective enforcement in trust building with butchers and slaughter workers to ensure meat safety.
Training, self-governance and trust
Before being sold to the public, beef in Tanzania must be inspected and marked with an official stamp. In more rural areas, LFOs who do this work find it challenging to make it on time to the many scattered slaughter sites they are responsible for. At the same time, meat sellers are eager to start business each morning. Accepting their inability to be everywhere they need to be, and cognisant of local business people’s needs, some LFOs reported allowing meat to be sold before they arrived, or choosing at times to look the other way.
Doing so was sometimes framed in terms of recognising their own inability to be on time and, in light of this, respecting a local sense of fairness – “How I can point a finger at others?”. However, it can also be seen as a gesture of good faith, communicating to butchers that LFOs will respect their business needs and allow them to sell meat prior to inspection so long as they do not sell any they suspect to be unsafe.
It may happen I am late to the slaughter site, I allow them to continue selling meat if no unusual symptoms have been seen on the animal carcass. I’m glad no one has ever betrayed my trust. They know how to examine the meat, I always show them… – Rural LFO
As suggested by the above quote, LFOs hedge against the risks associated with this unconventional allowance by emphasising training. They recognise the capacity of butchers and slaughter personnel to self-govern, and the potential (and, given their own challenges, even the necessity) for these business people to fill in the inevitable gaps in meat safety policy enforcement. By educating them on issues of meat safety, they are able to breathe easier knowing that their ‘clients’ have at least some tools with which to prevent meat-borne illness. This does however, require a degree of trust: both from enforcers in the business community that they won’t sell meat they understand to be unsafe, and from the business community in enforcers that the latter will treat them fairly.
Selective enforcement for positive relationships
Demonstrating willingness to allow butchers and slaughter personnel to occasionally sell meat prior to inspection is in itself a signal of trust and an act of relationship building, but this isn’t the only way frontline actors do this. LFOs and HOs overlook some forms of non-compliance, such as butchers’ failure to wear uniforms or wash their hands. In some cases, tolerance of rule-breaking is a matter of policy, being seen as inappropriate and/or unenforceable. Plastic chopping boards for instance, are known to break easily when used with axes – a tool enforcers know butchers are unlikely to give up and realistically, are unable to replace with electric meat saws more suited for use with plastic boards.
One LFO explained how he chose to emphasise meat inspection to avoid coming across as overly oppressive:
Meat inspection is a sensitive job. I must be careful, otherwise I may damage my good relationships with the butchers. […] after meat inspection, the rest of the work is done by the Health Officer and other staff. I don’t want to follow business people that much. – Rural LFO.
‘The rest of the work’ includes various aspects of hygiene and infrastructural inspection which LFOs, but also HOs, are responsible for. Being selective about what to enforce was, like occasionally allowing meat sales to begin before inspection, a way of trust building – evidenced by the above quoted LFO’s concern with maintaining ‘good relationships’.
Serious actions, such as condemning animals or meat, imposing fines or even shutting down businesses for failure to comply with hygiene standards was sensitive work. Taking a light touch approach to enforcement in the day-to-day may be a way of cultivating conditions under which these difficult actions – when they are seen to be absolutely necessary – might be recognised by the business community as fair, and therefore, easier to implement.
LFOs’ use of discretion and ‘soft skills’ – driven by their desire to behave in context-appropriate ways, sensitive to the needs and sensibilities of those they are charged with regulating – may well represent the best way of ‘doing meat safety’ in this context. Even if it means letting things slide from time to time. Indeed, given their limited resources, maintaining positive relationships of trust with butchers and others is likely also the most realistic way of ensuring meat safety as a more ‘by-the-book’ approach would require considerable additional resources, and possibly even alienate communities by stifling livelihoods and constraining access to meat which is an important source of nutrition. Keeping livestock keepers, butchers and everyone else involved in the meat pathway on side is likely a critical prerequisite for meat safety.
In further blogs, I will expand on the ‘street-level diplomacy’ practised by these frontline actors as they balance their regulatory obligations with the work of cultivating the kinds of positive relationships they need to encourage safe business practices around animal slaughter and meat sales.
- Read the first in this blog series – Challenges at the coalface: Tanzania’s Livestock Field Officers