This study is a questionnaire-based, descriptive assessment of informal livestock slaughter practices by small scale farmers in Gauteng. This study aims to assess if the practice of informal slaughter poses a potential risk to public health specifically to brucellosis exposure, a disease of high seroprevalence in Gauteng and South Africa. Informal livestock slaughter from antemortem selection to carcass dressing, butchering and product preparation were descriptively assessed for potential disease exposure and resultant public health risk. This study assessed the frequency of brucellosis testing and the occurrence of livestock abortions as a possible disease indicator. Farmers were asked on the particulars of informal slaughter to ascertain if disease exposure could occur through this practice.
The study made use of a questionnaire where 109 study participants were interviewed individually. Questionnaire results were compiled in Microsoft® Excel where data was analysed through descriptive statistics to identify trends and frequency data from the results. The study found that the majority of small-scale farmers participating in the study were older individuals, the majority of whom were not earning an income. It was found that study participants would slaughter livestock informally themselves or with a family member. This would occur only once or twice a year, usually for cultural or religious purposes or for a special occasion.
Livestock most commonly owned and slaughtered by small-scale farmers were cattle, carriers of Brucella abortus. Participants rarely made use of adequate protective personal protective equipment (PPE) when slaughtering informally. The use of PPE and the adequacy thereof was however found to increase in frequency with participant age group. Older individuals, elders in their communities were often given the responsibility of livestock slaughter, thus providing some risk mitigation to disease exposure during the process. High risk structures such as lymph nodes and reproductive organs were handled during slaughter, the former frequently consumed with the tripe due to lack of recognition. While some organs previously found to harbour Brucella organisms were consumed raw or only exposed to short cooking times, the majority of slaughter products were exposed to prolonged cooking times, sufficient to reduce bacterial loads, reducing risk through consumption. While many participants recognised brucellosis as a zoonotic disease, the routes of transmission were poorly recognised.
Exposure to Brucella spp. through informal slaughter is likely in the current environment of high brucellosis seroprevalence, poor disease control and the unreliable disease history of animals sourced for slaughter, posing a risk to public health. Should a brucella infected animal be slaughtered informally, exposure of those performing the slaughter, dressing the carcass and those involved in food preparation is likely and may lead to brucellosis.