The Sunday News
IN my line of work, I get to interface with a lot of smallholder livestock farmers and naturally they get to share challenges and their views about a wide range of aspects with the livestock value chains.
One recurrent and often emotional issue is about carcass grading. This usually comes from livestock farmers who would have fattened their animals and have certain expectations about the carcass grades they should get at the abattoirs.
There are a number of incidences when farmers express dissatisfaction with the carcass grades they got.
The common accusation is that carcass graders are bribed by abattoir operators to downgrade carcass such that a carcass which should have graded commercial is downgraded to economy. These grades pay differently and hence a loss in grade results is a loss in income realised.
In some cases, though relatively rare, abattoirs complain of graders conniving with farmers to score higher grades for undeserving carcasses, thereby prejudicing abattoir operators in the process. Carcass grading is done by Government graders who are attached to that specific abattoir.
There are a number of factors that are considered when a carcass is being graded, such as fat cover, age, fleshing index and sex of the animal. While there are some measurement guidelines for some aspects of the carcass, the process is largely subjective thereby open to subjectivity errors and manipulation.
The contention of this article, however, is premised on the lack of redress channels for an aggrieved farmer. It is almost “a take it as it is” process with almost no avenue available for farmers to lodge their disagreement with the grading results and get the issue resolved promptly. It is my submission that the carcass grading process needs to be improved especially in so far as the appeals process is concerned.
It should be made possible for a farmer who is dissatisfied with the grading outcome to request for a second opinion grading and get that done the same day so that the farmer can get paid for his or her animal and proceed with his or her other business.
In the current scenario an aggrieved farmer can only complain to the abattoir operator who in most cases is remotely interested and will quickly bring to the attention of the farmer that carcass grading is a Government role and therefore as an abattoir they cannot answer or respond to grading grievances.
While this is materially and technically true, one cannot escape drawing a conclusion that because abattoirs benefit from the flawed grading which is often in their favour, they are at the very least, interested in resolving such concerns but will naturally milk the situation.
I submit therefore that in the interest of transparency the carcass grading process should have a second opinion which can be easily and quickly activated for the benefit of the aggrieved part.
Also one is inclined to suggest that graders should be rotated frequently to avoid bias which can easily creep in due to familiarity with abattoir staff. The current situation is that graders get attached to a particular abattoir and remain there for a long time so that one can actually mistake them for the abattoir staff.
It is natural that under such circumstances objectivity gets compromised and this will manifest in grading results that are always questioned by farmers. Again, Zimbabwe is ravaged by corruption and any circumstance that predisposes a person or system to corrupt process will likely be exploited.
It may not be far-fetched that some graders are now on the payroll of abattoirs to manipulate grades in their favour.
The question to be answered is how can the carcass grading system be improved to minimise disputes or to resolve them promptly in case they arise?
Otherwise the system in its current form is heavily skewed against the farmer. It doesn’t help matters also that grading is the last process in the slaughter chain and by then nothing can be reversed even if the farmer is not satisfied with the outcome. Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo.
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