Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 October - 31 November 2012
Issue No. 1120
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Frozen or on four legs?

Due to soaring prices, buying just a few kilos of meat ahead of Eid Al-Adha is becoming a luxury in itself, reports Ahmed Morsy

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Egyptians dig deep into a pockets in prepration for Eid Al-Adha

A few hours are left before Eid Al-Adha, or the feast of great sacrifice, which Muslims celebrate by butchering a lamb, sheep or cow and sharing it with relatives and the poor. However, in light of the current economic recession, sheep and cattle merchants complain that sales are not that much. So, instead of buying a sacrificial animal, many are forced to purchase meat, the prices of which are also increasing.

Said Marzouk, a butcher in Zaytoun district, said that meat prices usually increase ahead of Al-Adha, as the demand increases. However, as Marzouk told Al-Ahram Weekly, the demand over meat is lower this year compared with the past.

In order to control the market and increase the supply of meat, Egypt imported 36,000 cattle and 30,000 camels from Sudan, Brazil, Croatia and Australia in preparation for Eid Al-Adha, said Osama Selim, head of the General Authority for Veterinary Services at the Agriculture Ministry, in press statements.

"I used to buy a sacrificial cow for Al-Adha Eid each year. However, this year I couldn't afford buying one because of the price," Hanafi Ramadan, a Shubra resident, told the Weekly. "The prices this year are so high that they put a heavy burden on the budget of any ordinary family," Ramadan added.

After surveying the market, the Weekly found that the price of a 400-kilo cow is approximately LE14,000 while the 50-kilo sheep is about LE1,750. Prices witnessed an increase of about 10-20 per cent compared to last year.

"I still remember that in 1990, the price of a sheep weighing 60 kilos was LE600. Now, the same sheep costs more than LE2,000," Ramadan added.

Samia Nabil, a governmental employee, can never give up the ritual of sacrificing an animal, despite her low budget. "Due to the recession, I prefer to share in sacrificing a cow with seven of my family members because each person will pay LE1,700 which is better than buying one sheep for LE2,000," she said.

"I prefer camel meat as it is healthier and is more affordable even in the high season. It is also suitable for cooking rice kofta," Nabil told the Weekly after buying two kilos of camel meat for LE45 per kilo from a camel butcher in Abbasiya.

A few metres away, there was a crowded butcher shop. Shehta Al-Masri, the local meat shop owner, was busy cutting a slab of meat for his customers. "The demand for meat is more than that for livestock," Al-Masri said. "In Eid Al-Adha, the preferable kind of meat is mutton, for grilling and barbeques," he added.

In front of Al-Masri's shop, Ahmed Gad stood awaiting his meat order. "The deteriorating economic conditions did not allow me to buy a calf since its price is more than LE11,000. Hence, I am buying veal to meet our needs in the Eid," Gad said.

The government, aiming to increase supply and cut down on meat prices, usually imports large quantities of frozen meat from Argentina, Brazil and Australia and sells them at low prices. However, not all Egyptians like the taste.

Asking Gad whether he buys such frozen meat for its low price: "I don't buy it whether it is frozen or fresh as there is no trust in such kinds of meat. Besides, I don't even buy local meat from a butcher who sells imported meat."

Elsewhere, at a government subsided meat stall in Manshiyet Nasser, a slum at the base of Mokkattam Hill on the outskirts of Cairo, Doria Sabri, a housewife, was buying two kilos of local mutton meat.

"I don't buy frozen meat. I don't trust the way the cow was raised and fed. Thus, I only buy the local kind," Sabri said.

"I prefer mutton because my children like it. Here in such kiosks it costs LE40 per kilo while in other areas it is sold for LE70 in butcher shops. Although we get 50 grammes of fats on each kilo and at the butcher he removes fats from the meat before weighing it, I buy from here because it doesn't cost that much."

For Sabri, the economic crisis is tough. Instead of buying four kilos, she bought only two. And for the same reason, she also couldn't meet the expenses of sharing a sacrificial sheep.

"I didn't buy meat for two weeks in order to be able to afford buying it for Eid," she said.

Ahmed Al-Sharkawi is a butcher of a stall where Sudanese meat is sold side by side with local produce. Asked if many buy Sudanese meat, Al-Sharkawi said: "Of course it has its specific customers, mainly low class. Many buy it for its low price, LE40 for a fresh kilo, and being more similar to local meat. However, in modern districts customers don't like it."

According to the Weekly's survey, not all Egyptians like imported frozen or fresh meat, especially after recent rumours that imported meat was infected. The price for frozen imported meat ranges from LE40 to LE45 per kilo, while the price of imported fresh meat like Sudanese is LE39.

"The media and newspapers played a negative role in reporting on imported meat," Essam Amin, head of the department of diagnosing materials at the Veterinary Serum and Vaccine Research Institute, told the Weekly.

"People stay away from buying imported meat as a result of what they see and hear in the media about it. But imported meat is great compared to its price and it is not harmful as was stated in the media.

"The claims of contamination cannot be true as it is obligatory for both importing and exporting countries to inspect meat and we carefully do our part. Hence, it should be clear for the customers that it is healthy and safe to eat," Amin, an international expert in tuberculosis, explained.

"Rumours about imported meat were spread by local producers. Their aim was to keep supply short and prices high. People should know that Australian and Argentine meat are the best worldwide. And we have to import in order to meet market demand."

Some prefer to buy meat from the Armed Forces public butchers. "I buy my family's meat from the Armed Forces shops because I trust them and the type of meat offered," Mohamed Ahmed, a 55-year-old teacher, said.

"It is also sold cheaper than in butchers' shops. While the kilo is sold at LE50 per kilo for fresh local meat, it is sold at LE70 at regular butchers. I once tried buying Brazilian frozen meat and it fortunately wasn't bad. However, I quit buying it after hearing from the media that imported meat is infected.

"The liquidity crises not only influenced the quantities of meat we buy but affected the sacrificial animals as well. Years ago, it was easy to see three or four sacrifices of cows on the same street. These days one can hardly find three sacrificial cows in a whole residential area," Ahmed added.

In Nasr City, local mutton meat is sold for LE75 per kilo, while veal ranges between LE60-80 a kilo. However, in slum areas, political parties supervise the selling of low-priced local meat for those in need. It costs LE30-40 per kilo.

For instance, the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), are famous for organising markets that sell meat at reduced prices. Additionally, after the Eid prayer it distributes free meat and gifts among the poor and children. The more extreme Salafist Nour Party is eager to emulate the Brotherhood.

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