According to the Department of Livestock, Bhutan is the highest per capita consumer of meat in South Asia.
But how safe is the meat that we consume everyday and who is responsible for monitoring the quality of meat in the market?
There have been concerns and frequent complaints about the quality and hygiene of meat from consumers, especially in summer.
Meat Stalls in Thimphu can be found selling stinking meat that is rotting or on the verge of it. The dried sikams of summer are also semi rotten with it giving out foul odours on being cooked.
Very often with meat shortages and rush for meat, consumers are left with no options but to buy poor quality meat.
This paper also found that international good practice stipulates that raw meat is transported in trucks or vehicles with AC coolers, but in the case of Bhutan meat is transported for long hours in hot and stuffy jeeps with poor hygiene.
Meat shops in Thimphu also lack proper refrigeration facilities cooling systems with most of meat left out in the open with only a fan to keep the place cool.
With people biting into more and more semi rotten meat people have wondered what the authorities are doing about ensuring the supply and sale of edible meat.
“Most of our meat comes from India and we don’t have any authority to check or interfere on how the meats are being processed from there. It is only when the meat reaches the entry gate from across the border that the BAFRA livestock inspectors in the checkpoints carry thorough physical inspection on the quality of the meat,” said Passang Wangdi, a senior Regulatory and Quarantine officer with BAFRA.
“If we suspect any fetid meat, we collect the samples and send it to the laboratories for testing. If the meat is fit for consumption then the livestock inspectors issues the movement permit and that is how it reaches the respective vendors
here and around.” said Passang Wangdi, a senior Regulatory and Quarantine officer.
There are around 59 meat shops in the capital. BAFRA claims that livestock inspectors visits every meat shop three times in a day and if there are shortages of inspectors they make sure to inspect the meat shops at least once a day.
After every necessary inspection if the meats are found to be safe, they issue a ‘fit for consumption notice’ for the day. The consumers are advised to look for the ‘fit for consumption’ notice and purchase accordingly.
“The BAFRA officials regularly come for checking and instructs on the necessary improvements needed in terms of sanitation and handling of the meat. We are instructed to always wear apron, proper headgears and gloves while handling meats,” said a meat vendor located in the heart of the city. Although the sanitation of most of the meat shops is considered by BAFRA to be satisfactory, most of the workers are seen without headgears and gloves.
Different meat carry different kinds of bacteria, thus different meats should ideally not be kept together. For example Chicken carries bacteria called campylobacter which causes diarrheal illness, and if other meats are placed with it, there is high risk of bacterial contamination. Therefore, it is mandatory for every meat vendors to maintain different chopping boards for different meats to prevent deadly bacterial contaminations.
However, this paper found the same chopping boards being used to cut all kinds of meat like beef, chicken, pork and even fish.
According to BAFRA transport vans should be well coated with stainless and non-corrosive sheets in order to make sure that the meats won’t react with the chemicals.
Bhutan imports majority of its meat from India and processed meat from Thailand. Before importing any meat, the vendors must apply for an import permit. After that BAFRA looks into the history and current status of diseases outbreaks in that particular region and issues import permits accordingly.
“No vendors are allowed to keep any stale or meats that are unfit for human consumption in the shops. If the vendors are found selling such meats BAFRA directly confiscates the products and dispose it in the Memeylakha disposal pit right in front of them,” claimed Passang Wangdi.
He said that although BAFRA makes sure that that the quality of the meats are fit for human consumption, but there are some cases where the vendors hide the meats that are at the verge of getting spoilt when they come for inspection and sell afterwards.
“In such cases what we do is firstly we warn the meat vendors and instruct them on the ways to bring improvements and suggest tips on maintaining the quality and sanitation of the meats. And next time if they are again found violating our rules, we issue a non compliance notice to the vendors and the third time; we shut down the meat shop until and unless they make necessary improvements,” said Passang Wangdi.
Restaurants are often found serving foul smelly non-vegetarian dishes which might threaten the health of the consumers. “If any restaurants are found serving such dishes which are unfit for consumption, we will penalize the owner by asking them to pay 10 times the price of that particular dish,” he said.
According to BAFRA customers should always ask for bills after purchasing meats from the shops so that if they encounter any problem in regard to the quality of the meat, they can approach the concerned authorities which will make it easier for them to verify any claims.
Consumers can always complain if they encounter with poor quality meat to BAFRA in written or call their toll free number which is 155.