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NEWS | Dec. 16, 2011

Afghanistan: Missouri National Guard Agribusiness Development Team teaches Afghans safe meat processing

By Capt. Dale Mitchell Combined Task Force

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Inspector Abdul Wahid stands prominently at the head of an examination table surrounded by a huddle of his colleagues. The group of men observes him carefully inspect the lungs of a recently slaughtered cow.

As a part of a monthly agricultural seminar series devoted to sustainable capacity building, the Missouri National Guard Agribusiness Development Team brought together 30 agricultural officials from across the Nangarhar region to arm them with valuable insight into the proper procedures for beef slaughter inspection.

The mission at hand for the group of Afghan government agricultural extension agents is to inspect beef viscera looking for any sign of animal disease that would deem the carcass unsafe for human consumption.

In farming-oriented Afghanistan, recent agricultural conversation has shifted from the plight of opium poppy eradication to viable licit industries such as livestock production. More and more Afghans are turning away from poppy, embracing instead livestock cultivation - goats, sheep and cattle.

The conversation has also turned to increasing carcass yields and food safety.

"Meat has become a valuable commodity in the Afghan agricultural market," said Army National Guard Maj. Samuel Forester, Missouri ADT executive officer. "Most slaughter is done on the farm or in open air road-side markets in Afghanistan. This practice combined with a lack of cold storage facilities creates unsanitary conditions for meat processing."

Forester said he and his team know that the meat processing industry will evolve here as the infrastructure and resources facilitate this growth.

Forester, a U.S. Department of Agriculture certified meat inspector in Missouri, planned this three-hour block of instruction focusing on seven learning objectives: sanitation procedures, ante mortem inspection, post-mortem inspection, diseases common in Afghanistan, general pathology, cold storage, and calculations of carcass yield.

"The big takeaway for our agricultural officials was how to butcher livestock in a sanitary manner, and how to identify different forms of animal pathology in order to ensure they are healthy before they enter the food chain," Forester said.

His Afghan partners seemed pleased and were very receptive to the course content.

Wahid, an agricultural extension agent from the district of Khogyani, Nangarhar Province explained to his audience, "Meat quality can be affected not only in our slaughtering facilities, but in the meat markets and shops as well.

"It is our responsibility to institute food safety programs with a focus on protecting human health."

Afghanistan has a meat inspection program, implemented by local veterinarians, but there is much room for improvement. Wahid said meat that has been processed and inspected garners a higher sale price.

"Consumers are starting to look for that purple stamp of approval," he said.

Unlike present day U.S. meat processing regulations, spurred in part by Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle" a vivid portrayal of life in the turn of the century Chicago meat packing industry, Afghanistan still suffers from unsafe meat handling procedures, if judged by present day American standards.

"We are still working to ensure that more Afghans have equal access to the slaughter facilities within our district," Wahid said. "It is encouraging to see more of our farmers producing a profit allowing them to reinvest in their business through the purchase of items such as transportation.

"In the future I will be looking into possibly implementing mobile slaughter facilities within my district," he continued. "Meetings such as this allow me the opportunity to listen to my friends as well as learn from the expertise of American farmers."

The purpose of this class was for the ADT to show their Afghan partners how to work with available resources so they, as stewards of their communities, can educate farmers and commercial butchers on good sanitation practices and animal health, Forester said

"These extension agents now know that if they detect animal disease it should be reported immediately to the local veterinarian and the Director of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock," he added. "That way infected livestock can be quarantined for further testing in order to mitigate negative impacts on human health."

The role of agriculture extension education continues to be a vital piece in the transformation of the Afghan agribusiness industry, according to Army Lt. Col. Brent Beckley, the ADT commander here.

"The idea is to provide our Afghan counterparts with usable, relevant pieces of the knowledge we have gained in our civilian agricultural experience.

"The overall purpose of our monthly seminar series is to connect agricultural officials with educational curricula, one another and their communities," he said. "At the core the heart of the agricultural extension mission is education."

The Afghans have embraced this information and other seminars taught by the Missouri ADT.

"The extension agents [are hungry] for knowledge," Forester said. "I was very impressed during the class with the amount of information retained. They were using the Latin based medical terminology, and were also able to explain information to their peers.

"I have no doubt that they will share their newfound knowledge with Afghan farmers and generate positive impacts on both animal health and human health in the Nangarhar province."