SPECIAL REPORT: Inside Slaughterhouses Where Animal Wastes Fuel Greenhouse Gas Emissions

By Abdulkareem Mojeed

Friday Effiong wipes his face with the back of his palms to clean a simmering sweat as he struggles to separate the fleshy part of a cow leg from its bones with a machete. A customer awaits the product of this labour.

The impact of the heavy rain that fell that Tuesday morning was already telling on his face due to poor sales, but that did not discourage him from expressing his displeasure about the unhygienic condition of the Abak Central Abattoir in Akwa Ibom.

“As you can see, this is where we dump the wastes from the slaughterhouse,” Mr Effiong told PREMIUM TIMES, pointing at the gastric waste, about 20 metres high, mixed with bones from slaughtered cattle that had been deposited for weeks and months.

Insert picture of Mr Effiong

He bemoaned the unhygienic environmental condition of the abattoir, pointing at the broken slabs and ceilings, saying they also do not have an adequate water supply in the slaughterhouse.

“Even the septic tank here is bad. We need the government to help fix it,” he added.

Animal waste – emitters of notorious greenhouse gases

Agriculture, forestry and land use account for about a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions driving Africa’s devastating impacts of climate change.

Although the most significant agricultural emissions come from land conversion, such as clearing forests for farms; methane from livestock and rice production; and nitrous oxide from the use of synthetic fertilisers, little or no attention is paid to animal waste as a source of greenhouse gas.

In 2020, over three million cattle and buffaloes were slaughtered in Nigeria. However, slaughterhouse wastes (a large proportion of faeces from emptied intestines) generated from abattoirs are often not disposed of properly or recycled to prevent environmental hazards.

As the waste decomposes, notorious biogases are released. The two central greenhouse gases associated with slaughterhouses are methane and nitrous oxide.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a tonne of animal waste produces over 100 cubic metres of biogas has a concentration of 65 per cent methane (CH4) and 35 per cent carbon dioxide (CO2), both of which are among the five notorious greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.

The UNFCCC said methane has a potency of about 21 times that of carbon dioxide in terms of trapping atmospheric heat, translating to about 1500 cm3 of greenhouse gases emitted from dumpsites in every 15000 kg of waste per day.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian government, in its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) submitted to the UNFCCC in July last year, proposed to mitigate four greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), as against the three GHG (CO2, CH4 and N2O) proposed in the previous NDC submitted.

However, there seem to be no clear implementation plans or effective regulations to curb GHG emissions from abattoirs across states in the country.

By implication, improper disposal of wastes from slaughterhouses and lack of climate-smart facilities in most abattoirs across the country poses public health challenges, degrades the environment and also facilitates the spontaneous emission of notorious gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, among others, driving climate change effects.

Insert pictures showing animal waste dump site at the Uyo central abattoir

Greenhouse gases are gases that absorb heat energy emitted from the earth’s surface and reradiate it back to the ground, causing the warming of the earth – global warming.

In the slaughterhouses visited by PREMIUM TIMES, it was observed that environments where these abattoirs are sited grapple with air pollution — mainly from the roasting of cow skins, decomposing piled-up faeces, spilt blood and poor drainage systems. This makes workers and residents prone to zoonotic pathogens infection.

PREMIUM TIMES visited the Abak and Uyo Central abattoir, both in Akwa Ibom State, south-south Nigeria.

On entering these abattoirs, there is glaring evidence of a failed and broken system that can be felt from the stench hovering in the atmosphere.

Insert picture showing broken slabs at the poorly managed abak slaughterhouse

This is mainly due to a lack of effective and efficient slaughtering and processing facilities, inadequate clean water supplies, lack of refrigerators and facilities for the collection and storage of waste and absence of functional sewage or waste disposal systems, which contravenes the state’s “meat inspection law” that establishes the abattoir.

Insert screenshots showing the Akwa Ibom state meat inspection law

“For this law, the proper sanitary condition of the slaughterhouse shall be deemed not to be maintained if the slaughterhouse is not kept efficiently lighted, ventilated, cleansed, drained and provided with sufficient water supply or if any filth, refuse anything likely to affect the quality and cleanliness of the meat is allowed to remain therein,” states the Akwa Ibom state meat inspection law, chapter 84 (11 iii) seen by PREMIUM TIMES.

More butchers lament

Like Mr Effiong, Bright Emmanuel was seen opposite a large hip of cow faecal dumpsite. He was dripping in sweat as he tried to adjust the smoky firewood setup being used to roast cow skin.

Insert picture of Mr Emmanuel

“The thing don master me,” Mr Emmanuel said in pidgin language in response to the question of if he was disturbed by the unpleasant smells oozing out from the dumping ground opposite him. “I don’t like the way the environment is because everywhere is dirty. We do pay tax to the Abak Local Government officials but we have been abandoned here. I wish the government could help evacuate all these things,” Mr Emmanuel added.

Even though a borehole with high water tanks was spotted beside the slaughterhouse, he said they still do not have sufficient water to keep it clean because of the lack of a generator to power the borehole.

Insert picture of Mr Frank

Another meat seller, Emmanuel Frank, popularly referred to as “Isantim”, who has been in the business for more than 25 years, said they usually dump their wastes within the slaughterhouse, but they stopped after residents complained.

“… because of the people living here, we do not dump the wastes around anymore. Whoever slaughters cows will go to dump their wastes anywhere,” he said.

Albert Robinson, who has been selling meat at the Abak Abattoir for over a decade, said they could not feel the government’s presence in their slaughterhouse because they have been maintaining the place among themselves.

Insert picture of Mr Robinson

“We are the one cleaning this place, no assistance from the government. The government gave us water recently but they did not provide us with a generator to pump the water,” he said.

Mr Robinson said they are able to sell the bones from the slaughtered animals, but they do not have buyers for the faeces.

“If you go to the back of the slaughterhouse, you will see where we are dumping the cow poo,” he added.

Similar condition in Uyo central abattoir

“Who are you, and where are you from?” Eyo Dan-Udo, the Uyo slaughterhouse Chairman, queried on sighting this reporter.

This captured the attention of workers around him and attracted more onlookers to the spot. After several minutes of questioning, he finally agreed to be interviewed alongside his members.

Insert picture of Mr Dan-Eyo while speaking in the slaughterhouse

“We slaughter between 50-60 cows here every day,” the Chairman said, pointing at the butchers, who were busy dissecting the slaughtered cows for buyers to purchase.

Mr Dan-Eyo said they try to make sure that wastes from the slaughterhouse are removed after the day’s work and that they use a wheelbarrow as well as other apparatus to do so.

However, he said they lack major basic amenities, and they are calling on the government to assist them in that regard.

“Over there, we have some machinery that is supposed to work on all these things (waste disposal and processing), but because it is not working, we are waiting for the federal government to help us to restore it,” the chairman said.

With a modern outlook, the Uyo Central Abattoir and Livestock depot is arguably the biggest abattoir in Akwa Ibom State. Despite being sited at the heart of the state capital with significant business activities, it lacks proper waste disposal and drainage systems.

The Saturday rain that fell when this reporter visited further exposed the poor state of the drainage pathways at the abattoir.

This reporter observed that the wastewater flowing out from the abattoir had nowhere to flow through because the drainage had been blocked by a high volume of gastric waste dumped within.

Insert pictures showing workers bathing in stagnant water flowing from the abattoir

Due to a lack of sufficient water supply, workers at the slaughterhouse were seen bathing and cleaning themselves with the cow dung polluted stagnant water by the entrance to the abattoir, making them highly susceptible to zoonotic pathogens infection.

By the slaughterhouse entrance is a piled-up waste of cow dung. Workers were seen emptying basins of waste collected from the slaughterhouse and cruising through the stagnant water barefooted to the dump site.

Elizabeth Udobor, the veterinarian in charge of the Uyo Central abattoir, corroborated Mr Dan-Eyo. She said they are asking the government to provide them with a biodigester system to recycle waste from the slaughterhouse properly.

Insert picture of Mrs Udobor while speaking at the abattoir

“For now, what we are doing is that a tractor comes to pack the wastes to the farm for agricultural purposes,” she said.

Mrs Udobor explained that there is a flaring unit at the abattoir, and by the time they can process the wastes into cooking gas, it will minimise the cost for the workers.

“It is costly to maintain the drainage over here, they spend a lot of money to remove the wastes from the drainages, but if they can install the biodigester system, it will help a lot,” she said.

Calls and text messages requesting comments sent to the Akwa Ibom Commissioner for Agriculture, Offiong Offor, were not answered.

Zoonotic diseases loom

The veterinarian explained that at the abattoir, they are predisposed to zoonotic diseases such as anthrax caused by the bacillus anthracis bacteria, among others.

She explained that zoonotic diseases (infection or disease that is transmissible from animals to humans under natural conditions) could be contracted by direct contact with the animals and inhalation.

She said she does get a terse response like “Abeg disease no dey kill African man” from workers at the abattoir whenever she asks them to use protective kits like nose masks and others.

“We give them prevention tips and ask them to go for regular checkups because if zoonotic infections are detected on time, it can be managed properly,” Mrs Udobor said.

Insert picture showing blocked drainage pathways at the abattoir

She noted that a key challenge bedevilling them at the abattoir is the lack of a proper drainage system which can be quickly resolved if a biodigester system is installed.

“The overhead tank water system designed for this place is not working anymore. It has been down for a while,” she added.

Despite the glaring unhygienic practices at the abattoir, Michael Okon, pioneer chairman of the Uyo abattoir who oversees all the affairs of the slaughterhouse, said they are comfortable with the current state of the abattoir.

“I don’t want any problem. Just leave the abattoir the way it is. I don’t want anything that will paint our state black in the press, especially now that our governor is vying for the presidency,” he said.
This newspaper’s analysis, through observation and interviews, revealed that the inadequate dumping of cow dung and other animal waste materials, the poor drainage system, and the lack of sufficient water erodes the environmental sanity of the communities where the Uyo and Abak abattoirs are sited.

Also, this newspaper established through interviews that workers at both abattoirs are ignorant of the adverse environmental consequences of improper management of wastes generated from slaughterhouses.

All the meat sellers and butchers interviewed said they had not heard of the term greenhouse gases, global warming and even climate change.

Abattoir— “the untapped goldmine”

Adeniyi Sanyaolu, an environmental biologist at the University of Uyo, said if abattoirs are appropriately managed, they would turn into a gold mine in every respect because of the industries that would spring up from the by-products associated with the operations of abattoirs.

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