Sunday brunch of spicy lamb chops with avocado salsa, midweek lunches of minted lamb chops and weekend dinners of braised lamb rack with herb de provence could have become a thing of the past. Unless, of course, you didn’t mind eating lamb that may have been infected with the scabby mouth disease. Not that I am remotely suggesting that any of the restaurants would have served any of the aforementioned dishes and would have been so cheap as to buy the lamb from local markets, but perhaps, one should consider where the meat on your table is being imported from before that forkful enters your mouth. For, as you may have read recently, Bahrain said ‘no’ when faced with the prospect of allowing diseased sheep to enter the country. But we Pakistanis, being the wonderful Samaritans that we are, said ‘yes’.
So what if the sheep had a few scabs around their mouths; our populace won’t notice a few ugly scabs and will happily devour the delicious meat just because it is ‘imported’.
Let us refresh our memories by going back nine years. There was once a ship called the Cormo Express that left a port carrying 57,000 Australian sheep bound for Saudi Arabia. Once it reached Saudi Arabia, the shipment was rejected on the grounds of being infected with the scabby mouth disease. An alternative destination was quickly looked for. Finally, a nation coping with malnutrition and hunger issues couldn’t refuse the ‘gift’ and Eriteria accepted the surviving sheep, after 6,000 of them had already died on the ship.
Now let’s zip back to the present. Why would there be more such incidents after the 2003 disaster? Well, it seems that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Australian minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, with the Bahraini minister for municipalities and agriculture at the World Food Summit, in Rome, in November 2009 that amongst other things requires that all live animals be unloaded on arrival, regardless of their health status. Australia also signed, or so it has been reported, similar MoUs with the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Libya and Eriteria. The next obvious question would be, why were the sheep not unloaded despite this MoU? Well the answer to that question is being debated in the Australian parliament as well, it seems.
Apparently, what is confusing people Down Under is how did the sheep end up in Pakistan, especially when we do not have the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), which is an essential requirement that a country needs to have prior to Australia engaging in live export trade with it. According to the ESCAS, all live exports need to be treated in a humane manner before the Australian government can export to such a country.
Everyone has been going to great lengths to assure all and sundry that the sheep are in the best of health, including the Australian high commissioner. Wouldn’t you wonder that if the sheep were indeed healthy, then why would Bahrain, which imported the sheep, which has an MoU with Australia for trade of live exports and also has the ESCAS, not take delivery of the animals? Why would the exporter risk another Cormo Express disaster? Why would formalities be rushed for us Pakistanis to be granted the sheep saviour status?
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2012.