Saturday, 14 March 2020

UNMASKING THE DISEASED MEAT RACKET


Carnage and disaster!

These are two words that can best describe the growing illicit trade of diseased meat between desperate farmers and unscrupulous meat retailers.

And it is the unsuspecting consumers that are the ultimate losers. Despite rising alarm, the trade continues unabated, The Sunday Mail Society can reveal.

As theileriosis, or January Disease, continues to stalk the countryside, fretful farmers are now routinely offloading cattle that begin to show signs of infection to some big abattoirs for a song.

Investigations conducted last week by this paper in various affected areas such as Mhondoro, Ngezi, Chivhu and parts of Masvingo discovered an intricate and sophisticated web of corrupt officials involving rogue abattoirs, butcheries, Department of Veterinary Services and illegal individual meat traders whose stock-in-trade is trafficking and selling diseased animals.

Despite heightened scrutiny, transactions involved infected cattle are still being carried out in the open. Unmasking the syndicates

Posing as cattle buyers, we travelled to some of the hotspots ravaged by January Disease to uncover what is really going on.

Discoveries made in Mhondoro, Mashonaland West, were particularly chilling. Watyoka Business Centre was our first port of call.

Immediately after parking our car at the shopping centre, we were accosted by a fairly young man who asked us, without hesitation, whether we were cattle buyers.

We obliged. 

The young man, who introduced himself as Farai, said he could help us, for a fee, to link with farmers that desperately wanted to dispose of their cattle.

This made our task easy.

Throwing caution to the wind, Farai explained in detail how he works as a link between the farmers, buyers, the police and veterinary officers.

“What I do is very simple. I link cattle buyers to the farmers and I also help the buyers get the necessary clearance papers. I can help you get as many cattle as you want,” the youthful middleman said in a pompous tone.

Farai, who said he charges buyers US$5 for every beast sold, led us to an elderly woman who was selling her visibly morbid cow in Kapuya Village.

The woman was evidently eager to dispose of her beast before it died, which she personally confirmed.

“The cattle has been unwell for close to a week now. I am worried about suffering a complete loss if it happens to die,” said the woman as we negotiated business with her.

Thus, without much negotiation, she agreed to a US$50 price for the cow. Villagers unlucky enough to have their cattle die on them cannot bare to dispose of them and would rather process the meat for own consumption.

Meanwhile, Farai kept pushing us into the “bargain” purchase by assuring us that getting clearance papers was not going to be a hassle.

“I work with the police and the veterinary officers and I can easily have this cow cleared as soon as you conclude this transaction. Leave everything to me,” Farai said.

According to Farai, police and veterinary officers are given anything between $20 and $50 (RTGS) for every cattle that they illegally clear.

From the police side, he said, he worked with an officer he identified as Constable Simango.

However, our efforts to track down the alleged Zimbabwe Republic Police officer were in vain as we kept missing him each time we were informed of his whereabouts.

To validate his claims, the middleman showed us valid and stamped clearance letters that were ready for collection by other cattle buyers that were conducting “business” on the same day.

Speaking in an interview last week, DVS director Dr Josphat Nyika urged the public to report any corrupt activities involving their officials.

“We are ready to deal with any case that we come across, we are still investigating this issue and justice will prevail on anyone who is caught on the wrong side.

“Although we have not yet come across any cases, we cannot rule out that this is happening, all we need is evidence and we take action from there. We ask even the public to alert us if they have any information or leads,” said Dr Nyika.

Ruth Maredza, a veterinary officer based at Mubaira Growth Point, disagrees.

“… as for the allegations of corruption, they are unfounded. All I can say is that everything is done above board,” Maredza said. 

Traditional leaders cry out

At Mubaira Growth Point, we met Chief Mashayamombe, whose jurisdiction covers areas around the growth point.

He said the centre was a focal point for buying and selling of contaminated meat as cattle buyers and agents are now camped at the settlement.

The number of trucks that passed though carrying cattle or going into the villages, including individuals that freely roamed around making “business enquiries” confirmed the chief’s point.

Born Ignatius Steven Chiketa, Chief Mashayamombe said he wished they could be empowered to deal with the matter.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing that we, as traditional leaders, can do. We cannot intervene in negotiations between buyers and sellers of these sick cattle. It is an open secret that these cattle are being cleared corruptly. We witness daily a number of disease-ridden cattle being loaded into trucks,” said Chief Mashayamombe.

The most affected areas in the district are Murambwa, Mushava, Benhura, Guvamombe, Nherera and Muponda. In most cases farmers, have lost their entire herd. 

Donkeys to the rescue

Some farmers who lost cattle to January Disease are now resorting to donkeys for draught power. In addition to being drought resistant, the animals are not easily affected by tick-borne diseases.

Thus, they have become a viable alternative for most farmers in the affected regions.  And their prices are skyrocketing.

A single animal now costs US$70. As most communal farmers are suffering heavy losses due to cattle diseases, a commercial dairy farmer whose land is adjacent to some of the affected areas has not lost a single beast.

Mr David Tinoza, diary manager at Tavistock Estates, has advice for farmers like Mr Verynice Paraiwa, whose herd of 16 cattle was recently wiped away by January Disease.

“We have a herd of 1 700 cows but we have managed to keep diseases at bay. The solution to cattle diseases lies is dipping. We dip our cows every week without fail,” he said.

“During such disease outbreaks, it is wise for farmers to avoid mixing their cattle with those that are not frequently dipped. Communal pastures contribute to the spread of cattle diseases.”

Mr Tinoza encouraged surrounding communal farmers to come and learn from their operations.

“It is sad to note that since the outbreak of the diseases, no single farmer paid us a visit to enquire how cattle diseases can be managed. I invite them to come to us and we will share ideas,” he adds. 

Concerns

Mr Innocent Sibanda, an environmental health technician based at Mubaira Rural Hospital, said they are yet to record cases of people that have fallen sick after consuming contaminated meat.

But, official statistics show that close to 100 people were hospitalised countrywide in January for health complications that developed after consuming meat from unofficial sources.

DVS advices farmers to burn or bury the carcasses of cattle that would have succumbed to diseases. Sunday Mail

0 comments:

Post a Comment