People across Benin have been shocked and horrified by photos of the largest slaughterhouse in Cotonou that were posted online in early February, including images showing butchers using dirty water to wash the animals before slaughter. Our Observers spoke out about the high level of dysfunction that has led to such unsanitary conditions at the facility.

The shocking photos of the Cotonou slaughterhouse show pigs being washed with filthy water and rotting animal intestines and excrement near a water tank. The images were first posted on Facebook on February 2 by the France-based NGO Bénin Diaspora Assistance.

"It’s a serious public health problem”

The France 24 Observers team spoke with Médard Koudébi, the president of the NGO, which is based in France. Koudébi explained how the NGO received complaints from butchers and sent collaborators on the ground to go and investigate the slaughterhouse. 

The butchers who work in the Cotonou slaughterhouse are forced to work in extremely unsanitary conditions.

The butchers use water from a borehole that isn’t drinkable. The dirty water that they’ve used then flows into the yard because all of the drains are blocked. This polluted water then seeps into the ground and is again extracted when the butchers draw water from the borehole to wash the meat.

For a period lasting several months, the slaughterhouse didn’t even have any electricity.They hadn’t paid their bills so the national energy company came and cut off the power. That meant that the cold room used to conserve meat wasn’t working.

This is a serious public health problem. It was the butchers who work at the slaughterhouse who sounded the alarm, which meant we could then investigate the high level of dysfunction at the facility and denounce it. 

“The smells are disgusting and suffocating”

Huge amounts of pork and beef are processed every day at the slaughterhouse, which is located in Akpakpa, the largest neighbourhood in Cotonou. That meat is then sold at the main markets in the city. The slaughterhouse is a public entity and is funded by fees paid by the butchers who go there to slaughter their animals.

Our team interviewed one of the butchers who uses the facility. He requested to remain anonymous but spoke out about the poor management.
 
There are serious problems with hygiene in the slaughterhouse. We became ill from all of the nauseating and overpowering smells. Since late November, there hasn’t been water or electricity at the facility so we have to use water from a borehole, which isn’t drinkable.

Our meat went bad because management kept shutting down the cold room that is meant to preserve it. They said that they wanted to save money. They once shut it between 9am and 4am the next morning. We lost a lot. It’s terrible management because we pay at least 13,000 CFA francs [20 euros] for each cow that we slaughter there and 500 CFA francs CFA [75 euro cents] for each sheep.
 

Government claims that the facility respects sanitation norms

In response to the photos, Yao Akpo, the director of livestock farming at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fishing, published a statement on the government’s website on February 11 claiming that the facility was respecting sanitation norms. He also told consumers that they could keep buying and eating meat without fear.

The statement also highlighted the fact that there are two slaughterhouses located on the site in question. The newer establishment opened its doors in 2018.

The new slaughterhouse has the equipment necessary to manage the polluted water that is a concern to the population. The water treatment plant on site also treats polluted water before it flows into public pipes.

Another system was put in place to carry both solid waste and polluted water from the old slaughterhouse to the water treatment plant in the new slaughterhouse before it flows into public pipes. The slaughterhouse has a dirty section and a clean section. The images that circulated online were taken in the dirty section.
 
However, our Observers say that quite a few butchers still have to use the “dirty” part of the facility. They told our team that the newly renovated part of the slaughterhouse is only used for slaughtering cows.

The evening before the statement was released, the director of the slaughterhouse, Mohamed Sossouhounto, was fired. In an article published on the website Banouto, he confirmed that they had decided to cut power between midday and 4am to cut costs.

Article written by Hermann Boko.