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1. Slaughterhouses for red-meat animals in APHCA-member countries

Types and availability

Meat has always been a dietary demand in most Asian countries. Traditionally, red meat was supplied “hot”, or unrefrigerated, to consumers. This distribution system, which is still the dominant one in most Asian countries, had a strong impact on the slaughterhouse networks established for market supply and on the specific structures of the slaughterhouses: traditional slaughterhouses are typically small (see (Table 1) with some exceptions, with basic slaughter equipment and no refrigeration. Somewhat recently, a limited number of modern slaughterhouses have emerged with line-slaughter systems, mechanical equipment and refrigeration units Table 1).

There are an unusually large number of slaughterhouses, mostly of the traditional type, for cattle, buffaloes, small ruminants and pigs, in member countries of the Animal Production and Health Commission for Asia and the Pacific (APHCA). Indonesia tops the list with 800 officially registered slaughterhouses. The Philippines has 100 government-accredited facilities and at least 400 others licensed by local authorities. Thailand has 347 slaughterhouses with recently issued licenses and more than 100 with old licenses. Pakistan has more than 300 slaughterhouses run by municipal authorities and a small number that the private sector operates. In Vietnam, assuming a similar density of abattoirs elsewhere as in Ho Chi Minh City where 21 licensed slaughterhouses exist, there may be at least 100 registered slaughter facilities in the country. (No updated figures could be obtained from some countries.) No slaughterhouses (operational) or very few exist in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Samoa (Table 1).

Compared with developed countries with similar population densities, APHCA-member countries have up to four times as many slaughterhouses as developed countries, where, in contrast, meat consumption is fourfold or more. This means that in developed countries, slaughtering is much more concentrated in large slaughterhouses, while there is a large number of small- to medium-sized slaughterhouses in the APHCA-member countries. This situation is due to the prevailing traditional meat-marketing systems.

Attempts to establish city abattoirs and structural changes

In the old days, the meat supply for population centres and rural areas in Asia derived from the traditional slaughtering of bovines, small ruminants and pigs on the bare ground or on simple paved slabs without any equipment other than knives and axes. The first effective attempts at establishing slaughterhouses in the APHCA region were in the major cities of some countries more than 50 years ago.

In many instances, the colonial powers of that period initiated the construction of large-scale slaughterhouses similar to the ones used in Europe. The method in use was the booth system in which several live animals were brought onto the slaughter floor, each to an individual spot (booth). They were then killed, bled, dehided (flayed), eviscerated and then the carcass was split – in that “booth”. Most of that type of slaughterhouse still exists in APHCA-member countries, using the same outdated procedures. As cities have expanded around these facilities, they have become a tremendous source of pollution due to their highly inadequate waste treatment and pollution control.

After the colonial era, countries kept building large city abattoirs, using their own funding sources or with foreign donor assistance (Table 1).

Table 1: Review of abattoir development in APHCA-member countries

Country

Remarks

Bangladesh

Until recently, there were no established slaughterhouses – only slaughter slabs without proper equipment or roadside slaughtering on the ground.

Bhutan

There is an Australian-built, simple but functional, medium-sized cattle abattoir located in the main border city to India. This abattoir, although technically without major problems and fully operational, stopped production a few years ago mainly because of socio-cultural reasons. Beef and buffalo meat for Bhutan are imported from India. There was also a small-scale pig slaughterhouse built in the 1980s through an FAO project in the capital, Timphu, which was dismantled some time after the project closed. There are no slaughterhouses operating in the country currently.

Cambodia

The French built the city abattoir in Phnom Penh during the colonial period, but it stopped operating when the market economy was introduced in the 1990s and smaller, private slaughter facilities could produce cheaper meat. But this has resulted in a significant decline in slaughtering and meat hygiene.

India

All major cities in India had central slaughterhouses, most dating back to the British period. Many of them are probably still being used but creating enormous hygienic and environmental problems. The only new slaughterhouse project was completed in the 1980s, which is the DEANOR abattoir in Mumbai. This is a huge facility with relatively simple equipment that allowed after its inauguration for hygienic slaughtering. Other major cities had plans for new abattoir projects but few, if any, have materialized.

Indonesia

The former centralized government initiated the construction of a high-capacity central abattoir in Jakarta, capable of slaughtering up to 2 000 head of cattle per night in two lines, using electric stunning (locally acceptable for Halal standards) and other modern equipment. The shift to a market economy and decentralization led to the opening of many small, private slaughter facilities with poor hygienic standards but which attracted the majority of livestock due to the lower cost. Although offering much better hygienic standards, the central abattoir in Jakarta now operates only at 10 percent of its capacity. Some municipalities (Bogor and Yogyakarta) recently built good medium-sized abattoirs with line slaughter for cattle. Both have not gone operational as yet because of disputes with the local butcher communities who prefer to continue slaughtering in the traditional way.

Iran

There is one or two large abattoirs for sheep and cattle in Teheran, although at one point there was discussion of relocating them outside the city.

Lao PDR

There is a New Zealand-built compact city abattoir with line slaughter in Vientiane, which since its inauguration (in the 1980s) has suffered from a lack of spare parts. The breakdowns led to the return of traditional slaughtering in some sections of the city. There are some very basic small-scale slaughterhouses elsewhere in the country.

Malaysia

The abattoir sector is generally well organized.

Mongolia

There was a government-run Socialist-style Kombinate (“Machimpex”) built with Russian assistance in Ulan Bator with high-capacity cattle-, small ruminant- and pig-slaughter lines, as well as refrigeration, meat cutting and meat processing units. The Kombinate became technically obsolete over the years and was sold to the private sector approximately eight years ago. Another modern facility with slaughter lines and meat processing was built in the late 1980s some 150 km north of Ulan Bator, with Finnish aid and technology. This plant suffered from lack of livestock and from its distant location from any main road. In recent years there was talk about privatizing the facility.

Myanmar

In Yangon, there are two relatively large, simply equipped municipal abattoirs, one for pigs and the other for bovines, located next door to each other. The facilities allow for slaughter in a vertical position and the production of reasonably clean meat.

Nepal

Several unsuccessful attempts at building abattoirs in Nepal have been made. The first was a highly sophisticated Danish-initiated abattoir in Hetauda City, in the centre of a livestock-producing region, with lines for bovines, small ruminants, pigs and chicken. It also offered refrigeration, cutting and further processing lines. Several attempts by the Government and the private sector were made to operate the plant, but all failed because the consumer market for meat was in the distant Kathmandu valley. High-tech production, refrigeration and the long transport made the meat too expensive compared with the traditional but very unhygienic slaughtering in Kathmandu. In addition, consumers were not used to chilled meat. Recently, two medium-sized abattoirs were built in the Kathmandu area (one already operating) but with unsuitable equipment that does not allow proper line slaughter and in unsuitable locations. A few simple and very small pig-slaughter facilities combined with meat shops opened up recently in the capital, all of them with significant hygienic problems. Currently, there is no properly functioning slaughterhouse in the country, and the traditional slaughter places presently used are absolutely unhygienic.

Pakistan

In Karachi, a modern Yugoslavian-built, large-scale abattoir with a line-slaughter system was established 25 years ago. To this day, the local butcher community refuses to use it. A semi-mechanical, large abattoir was built In Islamabad not too long ago, but it is reportedly not operational, presumably for technical reasons or non-acceptance by the slaughter personnel. In Lahore, the old central abattoir has not been improved or updated in decades, despite the increase of animal throughput: up to 800 cattle and 1 500 sheep and goats per day. The butchers use unhygienic floor slaughtering and dressing in these three cities. There have been plans to build a few private sector-operated, medium-size abattoirs; some are in the planning phase still while others have begun producing meat for export or supplying local high-quality meat shops.

Papua New Guinea

There are reportedly slaughterhouses of small to medium size serving cities and communities.

Philippines

Large city abattoirs never existed in the Philippines; a multitude of small- to medium-sized abattoirs, mostly for pigs but some bovines, supply the major cities. Their standards, although in many cases not fully satisfactory, have improved over the years as government authorities imposed a system of quality categorizing. Downgrading within the system is linked to economic losses due to trade restrictions. These consequences have caused many abattoir owners to modernize and follow the rules on hygiene. There are also a few high-standard abattoirs in the country, producing for quality meat outlets but looking to export as well. 

Samoa

There is no slaughterhouse, although there are now plans to develop one. Locally produced meat derives from farm slaughtering.

Sri Lanka

There is an old colonial-style city abattoir for cattle in Colombo and several small pig abattoirs in a suburb. All are hygienically obsolete, and new construction is urgently needed.

Thailand

Large city abattoirs never existed in Thailand; a multitude of small- to medium-sized abattoirs, mostly for pigs but some bovines, supply the major cities. Slaughtering is mostly done in the traditional way (floor dressing). However, there are also a number of new private or government-owned abattoirs with line-slaughter systems with good hygienic standards.

Vietnam

There is one large-scale pig abattoir in Hai Phong, which was designed in the 1980s for export purposes and which uses a continuous-line slaughter system. The second abattoir with continuous-line slaughter of cattle and pigs is the VISSAN abattoir in Ho Chi Minh City, built in 1974 by the German Government. Elsewhere, semi-line pig-slaughter systems use traditional ways of moving the carcasses (dragging) from stunning and bleeding to scalding and scraping. In some abattoirs, eviscerating and splitting of the carcasses is done on overhead rails. However, there are still many pig-slaughter facilities using improper methods – all operations, from bleeding to splitting and further carcass cutting, take place on the floor. All cattle-slaughter facilities, except VISSAN, use the booth-slaughter system, mostly with serious hygienic problems. Three new abattoir projects in Ho Chi Minh City and one in Hanoi indicate the Government’s interest in making fundamental improvements.

The central city abattoirs proved to be extremely useful in the past because they produced reasonably hygienic-slaughtered meat, at least in the population centres. This system worked particularly well in countries with a strong centralized government-controlled economic system, such as in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Mongolia and Vietnam. In particular, the newer central abattoirs were adequately equipped and the respective governments forced the majority of livestock to be slaughtered there, which allowed for effective animal health and sanitary control, including meat inspection.

After the introduction of the free-market economy and administrative decentralization in the 1980s and 1990s, which certainly contributed to general economic development, the structure of the city abattoir systems changed. Unfortunately, it changed much to the disadvantage and detriment of the sector. The free-market economy stimulated the mushrooming of many small private slaughter facilities, mostly with obsolete technical and hygienic equipment or practically none at all.

These small slaughterhouses operate more cheaply than the large abattoirs primarily because of the lack of expenditure on maintenance, hygiene measures and energy. Thus, the butchers or meat dealers are charged less and have won over a large portion of the business from the established facilities. Consequently, slaughter hygiene in general has declined and sanitary control, including meat inspection, has been difficult to organize or cannot be implemented at all.

There is growing awareness in APHCA-member countries that this development should be stopped. In some countries, some control has been put into place. In Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, for instance, all the obsolete slaughter facilities that were unable to comply with officially requested improvements were forced to shut down. Still, too many remain in operation throughout the region that do not comply with minimum requirements, and a clean-up of this sector is urgently needed for the sake of food safety and consumer protection.

Present status of the abattoir sector

The abattoir sector in APHCA-member countries generates very mixed images and impressions. There are the relatively new, well-equipped and hygienically operating abattoirs that produce for export or for good-quality meat outlets domestically. But there remain also the large abattoirs built long ago that are still functioning with the same initial equipment but mostly in an unsatisfactory state of repair. There are quite a number of small- to medium-sized private or municipal abattoirs that represent a range of availability and quality of equipment and hygienic slaughtering, from acceptable slaughtering standards and meat-handling procedures to absolutely disastrous and hazardous practices resulting in heavily contaminated meat.

However, it is not only the status of the abattoirs that determines the hygienic quality of the meat produced. The skills and attitude of the butchers, slaughter men and meat handlers impact considerably also. Of course, personnel cannot be blamed for not adhering to hygienic rules if the facility owners/managers do not provide them with reasonable working conditions, which includes provisions to ensure personal cleanliness and technical equipment to facilitate proper slaughtering and meat transport. But there is also a great deal of negligence and ignorance on the part of the slaughter personnel about basic hygiene rules, which considerably contributes to the poor-quality outputs of many abattoirs.

A key issue sustaining this situation in most APHCA-member countries is the renting of private or municipal slaughter facilities to butchers and meat dealers who bring their livestock to the abattoir, have it slaughtered by their own personnel and take the meat away in their own vehicles. This then means there are several teams of slaughter men active in one facility during one shift, each with their own working style (adherence, or rather lack of, to hygienic practices). More dedicated and responsible working attitudes are found in slaughter plants that use their own staff. Such permanent staff can be trained on basic principles of hygiene. Unfortunately, they are only available in a small number of private-sector meat plants, in particular the ones that produce for export or for the company’s own meat outlet system.

Another issue that contributes to hygienic flaws and negligence in slaughtering and handling of fresh meat is the need to work in the night time. The traditional meat-marketing system, which is the marketing of “hot” or unrefrigerated meat, requires a somewhat quick delivery time from the slaughterhouse through the wholesale and/or retail marketing phase to the actual preparation in the consumer’s home. Thus, animals must be slaughtered at night in order to have the meat ready for the sales outlets in the morning.

Supervision and hygienic control systems, which are already difficult to implement in most Asian abattoirs during the day, function even less during the night. The hygienic problems of livestock slaughtering in the traditional system arise from the need to rush, as there are only a few hours between production and consumption of the meat. This necessity causes slaughter men and meat handlers to short-cut on hygienic procedures for the sake of reaching the meat market in time.

In developed countries, all meat is subject to a cold chain, with the refrigeration of all carcasses immediately after the butchering. For centuries, consumers in developing Asian and also African countries have remained accustomed to buying recently slaughtered, unrefrigerated “hot” meat. Some changes to this habit can be seen in APHCA-member countries with the emergence of meat sections in supermarkets or the establishment of quality shops where refrigerated meat is exclusively sold, and in the growing popularity for beef that has been aged for improved tenderness.

Abattoirs producing for export or quality meat shops with chilled meat operate during the day and without any time pressure. Their carcasses have to remain in refrigeration units for up to 24 hours for pigs and up to 48 hours for bovines for complete cooling. Hence, slaughtering can be conveniently conducted during a regular working day and the slaughtering processes can be carefully carried out. This developed-country approach will eventually be adopted by Asian countries, some sooner than others, with Malaysia and China already at the forefront. Experience has shown that consumers previously biased against chilled meat will accept it once its cleanliness is appreciated and if the price differences between hot and cold meat can be kept small.

However, night-time slaughtering practices cannot be changed in the short term in most APHCA-member countries because they are an integral part of the traditional meat-marketing system. And these systems are a result of the simple infrastructure prevailing in the meat sector in those countries. Because there is no refrigeration used, the meat requires short handling periods and short travel time (preferably during the low bacteria-proliferation phase of fresh meat, also called the lag phase, see Fig. 1) from abattoirs to meat markets and to consumers. Even if the meat gets heavily contaminated, spoilage by micro-organisms will not normally occur due to the short period between slaughtering and consumption. Another reason for the demand of freshly slaughtered meat is the popularity in many Asian countries of processed meat products, such as meat balls, meat loaves or emulsified sausage products, for which such “prerigor” meat is particularly well suited due to its pronounced binding capacity.


Fig. 1: Microbiological reasons for delayed bacterial spoilage of fresh meat: Microbiological growth is stagnant in the first period after contamination (lag phase). It starts in the second period, but the intensity depends on the temperature. Under ambient temperatures and with “hot” meat, growth will be very strong until spoilage conditions are reached (log phase).

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