As the Christmas season draws closer, the Veterinary Service Department (VSD) has warned that meat products imported into the country without permit will be seized and destroyed.
The decision, according to the Director of Public Health and Food Safety at the VSD, Dr Bashiru Boi Kikimoto, was to guard against the importation of unwholesome meat products that could spread zoonotic diseases in the country.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 3,558 out of 4,198 deadly diseases in the world were transmitted from animal sources.
And to check the spread of such diseases, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) regulations require that importers of animal products first have to obtain a meat import permit from the Minister of Agriculture through the VSD.
According to Dr Kikimoto, illegal importation of animal products had become a major threat to the consuming public, for which reason the VSD was collaborating with the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) to crack the whip on importers who breached OIE regulations.
Speaking to the Daily Graphic in Accra last Friday, the director cautioned all meat importers to make sure they got meat import certificates from the VSD.
“We are collaborating with the FDA to fulfill the mandate given us in the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851) of ensuring that food that enters the body is safe and meat that is consumed is not diseased as well,” he said.
In 1999, there was an outbreak of the African swine fever that affected pigs in the country, with the Greater Accra Region being one of the hardest hit. All pigs in the region were killed, while scores of them were killed in other parts of the country.
Almost a decade after the crisis situation, Dr Kikimoto revealed that the disease continued to kill pigs in some parts of the country.
“The disease has become endemic and still kills pigs in some parts of the Western, Central and Ashanti regions. In the Ashanti Region, for instance, about 4,000 pigs were killed in 2017. We are, therefore, very careful not to invite more zoonotic diseases into the country,” he added.
Dr Kikimoto further asked operators of slaughter facilities to adhere strictly to safety requirements as contained in the Public Health Act, 2012 to ensure that unwholesome meat was not sold to the public.
On the issue of unhygienic conditions in slaughter houses and other retail facilities, he urged regulators, including environmental health units of metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs), to tighten inspection and enforcement regulations in those facilities to reduce meat contamination.
“The challenge is that there are 375 MMDAs across the country but we have only 41 veterinary officers in active service, which means that there is a huge gap even if we need only one officer in each of the districts. Also, we are handicapped in terms of resources to move to the field and enforce compliance,” he stated.
For his part, the Head of Agro Products and Bio-safety at the FDA, Mr Roderick Dadey-Adjei, said his outfit was collaborating with the VSD to tackle the insanitary conditions in slaughter facilities.
He said although the FDA had collaborated with the VSD to tackle the situation, they were handicapped in maintaining standards because of the lack of proper and well-resourced slaughter facilities.
“The local government, which is the MMDAs, is in charge of the construction of slaughter facilities, but the ones we have now are sub-standard, without proper lighting, water and sanitation facilities as required by law.
“There are still people who use lorry tyres, which have toxic substances, to dress meat, contrary to directives that they should use gas and other modern gadgets,” he indicated