Cattle ban's effect on meat stocks worries Egyptians


THE Egyptian ban on live cattle imports from Ireland, Switzerland, France and Portugal has taken many people in Cairo by surprise. The decree was signed on Monday.

Rumours of an impending ban were discussed with the Egyptian government last month, during a visit by Irish Department of Agriculture officials. At the time it was thought they had headed off any new restrictions.

According to Egyptian government officials, the ban came about because of a rise in the number of cases of BSE last year in Ireland and the other countries included in the ban. It comes just months after a short-lived blanket ban on European cattle and beef imports was lifted.

How the new rules will affect shipments of live cattle already en route to Egypt is not clear. Following the Egyptian government's ban on European beef last year, five shiploads of live cattle which left Ireland before the new rules were announced were allowed to enter the country. Officials in Cairo were unsure whether the same exemptions will be made this time.

Ninety-five percent of all live cattle imports to Egypt - 90,000 head - come from Ireland and it is not known how the shortfall will be made up. The announcement came just before the beginning of Ramadan, a month of daytime fasting and nightly feasting for Muslims, when consumption of meat is traditionally far higher than at any other time of year.

Egypt's meat import regulations have been described as the world's most stringent, stipulating, for example, an unusually low fat content and the selling of frozen meat within six months of slaughter. Nevertheless, meat and cattle that fall below these standards regularly slip through the ports and rotten meat "scares" are hot news items in the local press and can be highly political.