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A number of countries, are still trying to take full advantage of the lack of supply to Saudi Arabia’s beef market
Riyadh, 28th August 2001

 A number of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates and India, are still trying to take full advantage of the lack of supply to Saudi Arabia’s beef market — estimated to be worth SR1.5 billion a year — following Riyadh’s decision to ban all beef imports from Europe as a result of the outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

Some of these countries themselves have had temporary bans slapped on them, or are finding it difficult to satisfy the new regulations imposed on approved importers.

What all this means for Saudi consumers is that there is an almost complete lack of frozen meat available in the supermarkets. A walk round a number of well-known stores in Jeddah revealed that freezers that used to overflow with frozen red meat are now  being filled with other items.

Consumers are left with the alternative of fish and chicken. But how much fish and chicken can one eat, especially as their price has shot up dramatically as a result of the ban on other meat imports? And worse still, the little frozen meat that is available in limited numbers of stores, typically from Brazil, itself is becoming prohibitively expensive.

The Kingdom, where per capita chicken consumption is growing consistently, produces 200 million kilo of poultry meat annually.

Saudi Arabia imports about two-thirds of its beef for local consumption, put at 100,000 tons in 1999. It also imports 11 million tons of poultry meat and poultry meat products annually from many countries including the Netherlands, France and Brazil.

The situation in the meat market is made more complicated by the continuing ban on imports from many African countries following the outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in southwestern Saudi Arabia last year.

The Commerce Ministry has renewed its warning to Saudi businessmen against importing banned products, or in any other way dealing with European companies involved in exporting meat that may possibly be contaminated with BSE.

There are also obstacles being faced by the countries whose livestock has not been banned.

Australian authorities, for instance, trying to increase their share in the Kingdom’s beef market, recently threatened to halt meat exports to Saudi Arabia when the Commerce Ministry blocked the entry of 40 shipments of sheep carcasses from both Australia and New Zealand because they allegedly contained spinal cord residual.

The Australian Meat Authority said the difficult conditions imposed by Saudi authorities would affect negatively the country’s meat industry and indicated that meat traders from Australia and New Zealand may stop exporting to the Kingdom altogether.

Sudan is still hoping for the Kingdom to lift a year-long ban on meat imports imposed following the outbreak of Rift Valley Fever.

Sudan exported one million sheep a month to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states before the ban, which has cost them millions of dollars. Large quantities of frozen meat also arrived in the Kingdom from Sudan before the ban, which first covered livestock but was later extended to include all meat shipments.

Sudanese Minister of Animal Resources Dr. Riyak Guy argues that since other Gulf and Arab countries have lifted the ban on livestock imports from Sudan, the Kingdom should be expected to follow suit.

Sudan had hoped to increase its animal exports to $200 million by the end of last year but the ban had a devastating effect on local exporters in a country where hard currency earnings from livestock come second to oil exports.

India too is suffering.

Before the Ministry of Commerce slapped a temporary ban on the import of chilled, frozen and canned meat as well as live sheep and cattle from India, the Kingdom had imported 1.264 million kilos of fresh and frozen meat valued at SR11.817 million from India in the first half of 2000, the last period for which statistics are available.

Besides direct imports, animal products from India enter the market via Dubai, where some major Indian dealers have set up meat processing and packaging facilities.

In April this year, the Commerce Ministry investigated several importers following complaints that they sidestepped government measures to prevent entry of contaminated meat products into the domestic markets.

Large quantities of banned products have been seized at several entry points to the Kingdom.

The importers reportedly made changes to their consignments and packed them with forged labels and documents to make it look as though the products had originated from countries not on the ban list.

The concerned agencies discovered that Saudi businessmen colluded with their counterparts from Arab and Asian countries in procuring meat from banned sources and tampering with documents to mislead the authorities.

Officials grew suspicious when they noticed an unusual rise in meat imports from countries which had not previously exported or re-exported meat to the Kingdom.

Such surreptitious trade prompted Saudi Arabia to toughen its ban on beef imports from Britain, Portugal, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Denmark, Spain and Ireland. Total losses suffered by the EU countries all together on account of the prolonged Saudi ban runs into billions of Saudi riyals.

But the banned countries are fighting back.

The Netherlands, which has lost more than SR400 million meat export opportunities with Saudi Arabia, sent an advisory to Gulf governments at the beginning of this month detailing the stringent measures undertaken by European countries to ensure their livestock is free of all disease, including BSE.

The BSE scare has resulted in a more prolonged ban on imports of Dutch meat, which the Kingdom banned way back in 1997. It only imposed a total ban on imports from all other EU countries last year.

“More than 360 million consumers in Europe are now buying meat and meat products still banned by the Kingdom and other Gulf countries,” says Jos G. van de Vooren, agriculture counselor at the Netherlands Embassy, who has been vigorously campaigning for a lifting of the ban.

Vooren said yesterday that the Netherlands has imposed tighter restrictions to reassure consumers that Dutch poultry exports are free of contamination. “We have introduced a system to fix obligatory stickers on fresh poultry to warn consumers of possible salmonella or bacteria contamination,” he noted.

The measures currently in place in the Netherlands, to be complied with by all companies exporting poultry products to Gulf states, also include taking adequate hygiene measures, regulations for cleaning and disinfecting poultry houses, quality checks and effective control of infection sources.

Developments in Britain mean that only this poultry market is likely to witness any growth. The Saudi ministry’s latest directive to importers and chambers of commerce and industries comes in the wake of new revelations that BSE is now possibly breaking out among sheep in Britain.

Research is under way to ascertain whether sheep diagnosed in the early 1990s with scrapie — a BSE-like disease endemic in sheep since the 19th century — really had BSE.

— Additional reporting by Omar Al-Zobidy and Ghazanfar Ali Khan

Source: © Arab News

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28 August, 2001 03:59:16 PM

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