Bottle-green or fat blue flies buzzing around a butchery? Buy your meat there

Tuesday January 16 2018

A Saturday Vision investigative story revealed widespread but unregulated abuse of formalin by butchers to keep meat looking fresh and free of flies, what with the slow sales! ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG


Did you ever imagine that a swarm of houseflies over food would be a welcome sign in a country that has a long tradition of producing excellent medical practitioners?

Fat blue flies or the bottle-green flies that we were told in school spread dysentery! These are what a shopper looking for meat in Kampala has been advised to look out for.

If you find a butchery with neat, clean looking meat with no pest in site, run for your life. But if you are lucky to find one where you are greeted by flies disturbed by your arrival from the hanging meat, smile and order a kilo or two.

It all started on January 4 with publication of an investigative story that had been compiled for over a month by the Saturday Vision. The story revealed widespread but unregulated abuse of formalin by butchers to keep meat looking fresh and free of flies, what with the slow sales!

This was festive season which for once, had not seen meat prices rise, owing to general lack of cash among the people. In fact, wholesale meat price at Kampala’s main slaughterhouse fell from just over $2 a kilo to just below $2.

But what is formalin to a Ugandan? In this fair land of too little government where it is needed and some say too much where it isn’t desired, everyone knows formalin as the “medicine” for treating dead bodies.


In Uganda there is still little use of mortuaries and funeral homes. Someone dies at home and there is no foul play suspected, they just prepare the body for viewing at home and then proceed to bury, all this in two days, three if it takes long.

But because of the warm climate, a body starts putrefying quickly, so the mourners collect money and send someone to the drug shop to buy formalin. Or buy it stolen from a government hospital, as the investigative journalists did.

Someone who knows how to load a syringe then proceeds to inject the formalin in the dead body before in stiffens. Yes, they do it in the villages homes and town homes.

And now we learn that the butchers have been feeding us on the “medicine for dead bodies!” I suppose dead bodies are scary in all cultures. So the revelation was bound to cause revulsion.

Never mind that the chemical in question actually kills disease causing organisms if used well. And the advice was clear from some senior spokespersons of butchery related bodies: Only buy meat from butcheries where you see flies!

To be surer that your meat was not treated with the unspeakable stuff, it should be meat with smell. The one with formalin apparently has no smell. And it should generally not look nice. The one with formalin is an enticing red, very smooth and with a hardened layer on the outside.

After the publication of the formalin story, Kampala city authorities swung into action and started closing down butcheries suspected to be using formalin to preserve their meat.

Local television showed several butchermen, whose shops had been closed confused, and uttering the typical Ugandan question whenever official action affects one’s business: “Where shall we get school fees for our children?” I think the answer is simple: Follow the flies. Or call the flies.