Mark Titus, Enterprise Reporter
Basil Wright, president of the Jamaica Association of Public Health Inspectors (JAPHI), argues that abattoir monitors have played a major role in the rapid decline in meat-processing standards.
"All the government abattoirs are a disgrace, and a lot of the conditions at these facilities are allowed to exist because of the officers (public health inspectors)," says Wright. "The responsibility of the health inspector goes beyond inspecting meat; they must ensure that the abattoirs are in acceptable condition."
On the other hand, the JAPHI head argues that there needs to be a revision of the laws governing the slaughter of animals for human consumption, as there are weaknesses in the present regulations that are affecting the performance of his colleagues.
Must keep up globally
Dr Osbil Watson, acting director of the Veterinary Services Division in the Ministry of Agriculture, agrees. "In these times, we must move and keep up with the global issues, and one key issue is food safety. The under-tree slaughter and the (health) inspector arriving after the animal is slaughtered just cannot work," he states.
Watson points out that a veterinary public health inspector or a veterinarian should be present to check the animal on arrival at the slaughter facility to ensure its origin and identity. In doing so, you reduce the chances of praedial larceny, he says.
"Ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection must be conducted on each animal, but what is happening presently, is that after the butcher cuts up the meat, the health official stamps the meat or (in some cases) don't turn up at all," Watson discloses.
The veterinary expert suggests that the monitoring mechanism would be more effective if it was under the purview of his division.
"The Ministry of Agriculture's Veterinary Services Division is the competent authority when it comes on to animal health," he states. "The sad thing about it, though, is that the laws governing the production and sale of animal products locally would fall under the ambit of the Ministry of Health."
Peter Knight, director of the Environmental Health Unit, which operates under the Health Promotion and Protection Division of the health ministry, says integration can be reviewed, but should be fully explored before implementation.
"Whatever we do must be done in the best interest of the country. If there is need for us to rationalise and streamline the whole meat-inspection services, we must ensure that, at the end of the day, decisions taken are in the best interest of public health," Knight states.
Urgent attention required
During last week's examination of the budget estimates for the Ministry of Health, Dr St. Aubyn Bartlett told Health Minister Rudyard Spencer that the issue of veterinary public health required urgent attention.
"It is not a matter that has just arisen. It is a situation where right out there in the public, animals are slaughtered and are not being examined because the slaughterhouses are not properly equipped," Dr Bartlett, a veterinary doctor, and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) member of parliament who represents Eastern St Andrew, said.
"It is a matter that I would love for the ministry to give urgent concern," Dr Bartlett said.
He added that there was only one veterinary officer in the ministry and opined that the ministry needs to have a veterinary public health department with three or four veterinary officers to ensure that the public safety and the food chain are addressed.