Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Preparing for the ‘meat feast’

With the Bairam holiday soon approaching, Mai Samih looks at meat prices in local markets

Al-Ahram Weekly

Less than a week before the Bairam holiday, when lambs and cows are slaughtered by Muslims as a sacrifice, the lack of supply of imported cattle has been pushing the prices of meat upwards.
A campaign by the Egyptian meat industry against imports of Australian beef on the grounds that it is produced using harmful hormones has pushed Australia, a main meat exporter to Egypt, to suspend its supplies.
Negotiations to import additional beef from Romania and Georgia have so far failed. The market needs between 40,000 and 50,000 head of imported cattle before the Bairam holiday to cover demand during the feast.
A number of traders contacted by Al-Ahram Weekly said that the average prices of local cattle had gone up by almost 10 per cent over last year’s prices.
Known as the “meat feast”, demand for beef and lamb increases during the Bairam holiday, which starts next Tuesday.
Members of the Egyptian Meat Importers Council have agreed with the ministries of food supply and agriculture to lower the prices of imported meat by at least 15 per cent during the period preceding the Bairam feast.
The head of the council told the media that available imported meat currently stood at 190,000 tonnes, 70 per cent above expected demand.
2,000 tonnes of discounted meat would be distributed by the state-owned Holding Company for Food Industries through cooperative outlets at prices of LE27.5/kg for meat imported from Brazil and LE26/kg for meat imported from India.
However, in many cases the imported meat fails to attract Egyptians, who choose to buy more expensive locally produced meat instead.
Meat prices were averaging LE66.9, or almost $10, per kg in August, 6.7 per cent higher than last year, according to figures from the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, making it unaffordable for many Egyptians.
Prices leaped after the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Egypt last year, and they have not yet returned to pre-epidemic levels.
“The average consumer now consumes a quarter of the amount he used to buy a couple of years ago,” said Hazem Abdel-Al, a butcher in the Giza governorate, who put this down to rising prices.
According to the 2012 World Health Organisation Egypt Nutrition Landscape Analysis Report, meat represents only eight per cent of the average Egyptian’s diet, while carbohydrates represent 52 per cent. The lack of protein caused by low meat intake was a main cause of malnutrition, the report said.
The main reason for the low consumption of meat was the increase in its prices, commented Essam Farahat, manager of the General Organisation for Veterinary Services.
“Food prices are correlative, which means that if the prices of vegetables and fruit go up, the price of meat does too,” he said. While the annual inflation rate in August came in at 9.7 per cent, the increase in the prices of food and beverages was 12.9 per cent.
The hike in fodder prices has also fed increases in the price of meat. International prices of corn, soya beans and clover have almost doubled since 2004.
“When the cost of feeding cattle was lower, farmers could afford to raise cows more cheaply, making meat prices cheaper,” Abdel-Al said.
Relying on imported meat, of less good quality than the Egyptian variety, adds to the problem as it increases the demand for locally produced meat, pushing up its prices.
According to UN Food and Agriculture Organisation statistics, in 2011 Egypt imported 58 million cattle worth $71,720 million, while it produced only four million.
“We have sent many petitions to the Ministry of Agriculture asking it to assist in checking the cows and getting the best herds but nothing has been done,” said Mohamed Sharaf, vice chair of the butchers department of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce.
The ailing economy and increasing dollar exchange rates have reduced meat imports into Egypt by 50 per cent, according to meat traders.
As a result of the deteriorating economic conditions, some meat importing companies have resorted to one of two solutions: either to decrease the amount of meat they import or to stop importing meat altogether.
“If these companies once imported around 1,000 tonnes of meat, they now import only 500 tonnes,” Farahat said.  
Farahat said the solution lay in “re-implementing the previous [veal] project that was based on banning the slaughter of young cows in order to help increase the meat supply, since it gave the cows more time to grow”.
“Instead of slaughtering a cow weighing 40kg, they would wait until it weighed 450kg, providing more meat to the market,” he said.

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