Pause a while, Chennai, before you dig into that rabbit meat steak!

ILLEGAL MEAT AND FOOD SAFETY

Rabbits are caged outside a meat shop in MGR Nagar market, to be slaughtered. Pic: Laasya Shekhar

Are you looking forward to dining on the delicacies of rabbit or pigeon meat in your favourite restaurants in Chennai?

A quick search on Zomato would lead you to several noted restaurants that serve rabbit meat in Barbeque or Biriyani preparations. The meat in your platter, served fancy with exotic masalas and giving out delicious aromas, would without a doubt whip up your appetite to a high, but pause a moment and ask: Is this meat healthy to consume?

Chances are very high that the chief ingredient in that expensive, exotic dish — the meat itself, was prepared in extremely unhygienic conditions. The fact that Tamil Nadu has no slaughterhouses for rabbits, pigeons and ducks explains why animals are often slaughtered in a filthy environment, violating animal welfare laws and in turn posing a public health hazard.

Where does the meat come from?

When this reporter, along with animal welfare activist Jayanth Prakash L, visited a meat shop called Jayanthi Mutton and Chicken Park, exactly opposite to Anna Nagar Arch, it came to light that the sale of rabbit, pigeon and duck meat has been going on here for the past 35 years. A strong stench hits the nose and the trail of blood on the walls and floor meet your eyes as you walk into this shop.  Outside the shop, pigeons are kept caged.

Animals are butchered here. A view of an unhygienic meat shop (Jayanthi chicken and Mutton park) in Anna Nagar. Pic: Laasya Shekhar

A 10*10 square feet space, filled with animal feathers, serves dual purpose: As shelter for the animals as well as slaughtering spot. The shop owner, who admitted to have been under the scanner of animal welfare activists many times due to the act, said that he sells rabbit meat at Rs 350 per kilo and pigeon meat at Rs 150 per piece.

A similar scene can be witnessed at a meat shop called Nellai Chicken Centre in MGR Nagar market in KK Nagar where around six rabbits were kept in a small cage. The premises of the meat shop was very unhygienic with spots of blood, feathers and organs of animals lying all around.

The owner of the shop who claims that his shop is the only one selling rabbit meat in the vicinity also shares that the demand for rabbit meat is at a high here. “It is a delicacy. People like it, as it tastes more like chicken,” he said. A kilo of rabbit meat is sold at Rs 400 here.

When questioned about the lack of hygiene in the meat shop, where the animals are slaughtered, he instantly replied, “It is a meat shop. What else can you expect?”

Other places including Pudupet market and Saidapet market – falling under the Chennai Corporation limits – also sell this meat and the conditions are not vastly different.

Laws and regulation

When a senior official from the Food Safety Department under the Health and Family Welfare Department of the Tamil Nadu Government was contacted, he said that the meat of these animals may be consumed as the government has not banned it yet. “Slaughter houses are mandatory only for the bigger animals. The law to term it as legal or illegal is in the draft stage,” said the official.

However, Arun Prasanna of People For Cattle in India (PFCI), a non-governmental organization focusing on illegal cattle trafficking and slaughtering, trashed the official’s point. “There is an official body, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) that regulates what to eat and what not to. Officials are beating around the bush as they are not aware of the law. It is illegal to consume the meat of pigeons and rabbits. These animals also have no mention in the list of consumable meat specified by the FSSAI,” Arun Prasanna said.

An RTI reply received by Arun Prasanna from the FSSAI says that under the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011, the species ‘Leopards’ is included among meat and meat products, but that is in the draft stage. The reply clearly mentions that the noted restaurants selling rabbit meat were not given any licence.

The FSSAI, a statutory body that implements the act, mandates licence application by the restaurant. A licence would be issued only after the food safety officers conduct a physical inspection and submit the reports.

The reply also specified that poultry birds (including pigeon and duck) should be slaughtered only in licensed slaughter houses. The Secretary of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), M Ravikumar confirmed, “Animals cannot be slaughtered in a meat shop,” even as he noted that rabbits and pigeons cannot be consumed as meat.

Arun Prasanna also points out that the existing practice of slaughtering animals in a meat shop is an environmental hazard, as animal waste is considered as red category pollution. “It is unfortunate that the government officials who have limited knowledge of the subject feel that the practice is legal,” he felt.

Slaughtering animals in meat shops is also in direct violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, as they are butchered here without an inspection or approval from the veterinary doctor.  According to the Slaughter House Rules, 2001, no animal must be slaughtered in front of another animal. “The slaughter house shall have a reception area of adequate size sufficient for livestock subject to veterinary inspection,” says the notification.

“The government should take required measures to make mandatory raids at all meat shops, pet shops and places to ensure that these protected species are not being killed under any circumstances,” says activist Jayanth Prakash.

“If any of these creatures – rabbits, pigeons and ducks – are being kept under unhygienic or crowded conditions, the public can lodge a complaint to the police or to any trusted animal activists, who will act on the complaint on grounds of cruelty,” he added.

It is also confusing when the replies from the various government department on the subject are in conflict with each other. In contradiction to FSSAI and AWBI, the public health department of the Greater Chennai Corporation noted that the meat of pigeon and rabbit can be consumed, although even they specified that the animals cannot be slaughtered anywhere, apart from the licensed slaughter houses.

Doctors in the city warn the people in general to be careful about consuming such meat in view of zoonotic diseases. Sai Sharan Reddy, a doctor said, “If the animal is not slaughtered and cooked in hygienic conditions, there is a chance of falling prey to zoonotic diseases. Intestinal diseases caused by E Coli bacteria pose a big risk if unhygienic meat is consumed.”

Laasya Shekhar
About Laasya Shekhar 7 Articles
Laasya Shekhar is Senior Reporter at Citizen Matters Chennai. She tweets at @plaasya.

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