With illegally transported and unhygienic meat entering the city unabated, the Food Safety Department and Greater Chennai Corporation officials remain baffled over finding the sources and destination of the meat.
According to a food safety department official, the department has seized more than 10 tonnes of unhygienic meat this year. “Last month, we have seized nearly four tonnes of meat smuggled into the city in a train and from a house in Saidapet. Consuming unhygienic meat would cause intestinal problems like dysentery and other complications,” the official said.
The official also added that most of the smuggled meat is coming from Jaipur in Rajasthan. “One of the major reasons for increased smuggling of meat is due to the availability of sheep at a lower cost in Rajasthan. Smuggled sheep meat has been sold as goat meat in Chennai,” Dr R Kathiravan,
Designated officer, Food Safety Department said.
Kathiravan also said that not all the meat brought from other states are unhygienic. “If the meat is transported in freezing temperature of -50 to -40 degrees Celsius, they are safe for consumption. But there is no facility in the trains to achieve the freezing temperature. During all of our seizures, we found that the meat cartons are packed with ice. Travel from Jaipur to Chennai takes three days on the train. The ice melts before the train reaches Chennai. However, it is clear that the perpetrators are changing ice midway somewhere,” he added.
However, the food safety department has no clue about how the network functions as the meat cartons
mostly have fake address and contact numbers.
“Interestingly, all the meat cartons seized are labelled as fish. We have no idea about why the smugglers label meat cartons as fish parcels,” the official said.
The designated officer also opined that the number of Chennai Corporation slaughterhouses is not enough to meet the demands of the city.
When asked about the department’s concern over the smuggled meat, Kathiravan said, “When the animals are slaughtered in Chennai Corporation-run slaughterhouses, qualified veterinary doctors check and verify the animals. Sick and dead animals will not be approved by the doctors. On the other side, we are unaware of the quality of animals if they are brought from other states. They are also transported in unhygienic conditions. Our norms say that we ought to destroy unhygienically transported food products. Consumers would not able to identify smuggled meat and genuine meat, so we should destroy them before reaching shops.”
Meanwhile, sources in the department suggested that there are middlemen bridging the gap between meat shop owners and smugglers.
“Agents receive the meat and distribute them to some hotels and meat shops. Some meat shops mix the smuggled meat with corporation authorised meat,” the sources said.
Railway has no surveillance mechanism
As there is no surveillance system to check the parcels in Railways, transporting these type of goods continue unchecked, according to a food safety official. “The Railway is providing parcel services through private contractors. Due to the outsourcing, the Railway is unable to check the parcels. Leveraging the lacunae, smugglers use trains to send meat interstate,” the official said. Although the Railway Protection Force (RPF) accompanies Food Safety Department and Chennai Corporation officials during the seizures, the commercial wing of Southern Railway is unable to trace the sender details and delivery addresses. Despite the repeated attempts to get details of steps taken to curb the menace, the Southern Railway officials failed to clarify.
Unhygienic condition in meat shops, say hoteliers
While the Food Safety and civic officials huddle to prevent smuggled meat, hoteliers in Chennai alleged that all the meat available in city meat shops are sold in unhygienic conditions. “The slaughtered animals should be immediately shifted to freezers and stored at -18 degrees Celsius until consumption. It is clear the meat brought in trains is unhygienic as there is no provision in trains to store at freezing temperature. But the animals slaughtered in abattoirs are also kept in open for several hours in shops,” M Ravi, president of Chennai Hotels Association, said. He also pointed out that most of the meat shops in the city lack freezer boxes to store their meat.
“Corporation should open more modernised slaughterhouse and the authorities should make sure that meat is stored in hygienically in shops. Even some star hotels also store their meat outside freezer boxes. This exposes them to dust and flies, he said,” Ravi added.
Corporation plans 2 more abattoirs
The Greater Chennai Corporation has planned to open two slaughterhouses in northern and southern parts of the city.
According to a Chennai Corporation Health Department official, one abattoir would be opened in Tiruvottiyur or Manali zone (North region) and another would come up in Perungudi or Sholinganallur zone (South region).
Presently, the civic body is maintaining slaughterhouses in Perambur, Saidapet, Villikakkam and Kallikuppam near Ambattur. “Among the four abattoirs, Perambur is the busiest and it is the only place where cattle slaughter is being done,” the official said.
However, the food safety department official opined that the city is getting only half of its meat from those abattoirs and the civic body should open slaughterhouses in every zone.
On an average, 800 to 900 goats are being slaughtered in Perambur abattoir during weekdays and on Sundays, the number spikes up to 3,500 to 4,000.
At the same time, 60 to 70 cattle are being slaughtered on weekdays. Around 170 to 200 cattle are slaughtered on Sundays.
“We will provide the place to slaughter animals and the meat shop owners should bring their animals. After the animals are slaughtered, a blue colour seal with corporation logo will be stamped. Consumers should make sure that they buy good meat by noticing the seal,” the official said.