Australian sheep saga: Fallout starts spreading to food businesses

Sources say furore will jeopardise the future of Pakistan’s nascent meat industry.

Kazim Alam September 23, 2012


On paper, indiscriminate culling of the allegedly infected Australian sheep is estimated to result in a comparatively bearable loss of Rs130 million; industry sources, however, believe otherwise. They say that conflicting reports in the media about the sheep’s medical fitness will jeopardise the future of Pakistan’s multi-million dollar meat export industry.

“My foreign clients are extremely concerned about all that is going on here with regard to the Australian sheep. It is sending wrong signals to the entire world that we do business without regulatory checks and balances,” one of the country’s largest meat exporters told The Express Tribune. He requested anonymity, saying he did not wish to offend the owners of PK Meat and Food, the company that had imported the sheep in early September. He put the size of the industry in the range of $300-350 million, dominated by about a dozen major players.

He criticised the government for complicating the issue by releasing contradicting test reports and culling the livestock in a questionable manner.

Pakistan exported meat and edible meat offal worth $167.2 million in 2011, with annual growth in export volumes of about 38% between 2007 and 2011.

Similarly, Pakistan exported raw hides, skins and leather worth $467.8 million in 2011. Pakistan was the world’s 17th largest exporter of raw hides, skins and leather that year.

According to an Iranian importer of Pakistani meat, who is currently on a visit to Karachi, the government’s clumsy handling of the sheep controversy could lead to a drastic decrease in the country’s meat-related exports in the coming years. “First, your government failed to check the animals properly; then it released conflicting test reports; then it ordered their immediate culling in a most inappropriate manner – followed by apparently false anthrax alarms,” he said.

While the Pakistani meat industry braces itself for tougher times ahead, animal exporters in Australia seem equally worried that the public relations disaster may turn into an industry-wide catastrophe.

“The markets have been falling by about 10 Australian dollars a week, for the last four weeks. So that’s driving the export market down, because they know what’s going on in the Middle East,” Australian ABC News Network’s website quoted an animal exporter as saying.

When contacted by The Express Tribune, an official of the Australian High Commission in Pakistan said her government is working with Australian exporters to reduce health risks to animals when they are traded overseas.

“The Australian government has not halted exports of live animals,” Melissa Kelly, first secretary at the Australian High Commission, said; in a rebuttal to news stories that appeared in several Pakistani newspapers on Friday.

Australia is the fifth largest exporter of live animals to the world, with total exports of $1.1 billion in 2011. About $9.2 million of Pakistan’s total imports of live animals in 2011 – out of a total of almost $16 million – were from Australia; which translates into a share of roughly 58%.

Similarly, Australia is the world’s largest exporter of wool, with almost $3 billion worth of exports in 2011. Almost 11% of Pakistan’s total imports of wool – amounting to $19.1 million – came from Australia that year.

Kelly said the High Commission is concerned about the effect the sheep controversy will have on bilateral trade with Pakistan. “We hope the incident won’t result in a negative perception of Pakistan as a trading partner and as a destination for investment. Nor do we want it to affect Australia’s strong reputation as a leading agricultural exporter,” she said.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2012.

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Haroon Rashid | 7 years ago | Reply | Recommend

Compliment to the report of Mr. Kazim Alam for the important subject, and the vested interests with commercial interests. The situation Pakistan was declared by World Animal Health Organisation, Paris immune from FMD (Foot and Mouth Disease). Our livestock meat is world class fetching pennies which cannot project our quality of meat declared and accredited by the best world rating authority. so Our meat processing industry is in its very infancy into business case, and exports. This year was declared by World Animal Health Organisation as the year of livestock. I have not seen any promotion by any quarter in Pakistan to evaluate their own inventory, assets. Pakistan goat, cow, buffalo are sold, smuggled to Dubai despite the ban at pennies, and also smuggled to Afghanistan. Our entrenepeur has not understood the grading of Halal Food authorisation, hence we obtain very little of our gold. I can tell you that PK and other processors has never participated in any world forum of animal health being organised in Asia Pacific region, Iran, India, Thailand, China, and the Middle East region with the exception of Pakistan. Cutodians of the ship, and merchandise on board grabbed the opportunity with the local merchants and the regulatory authority. If the sheep are infect with FMD this would damage our entire livestock industry and will stop our exports. Panel of independant experts of international repute scientists, doctors from Paris should be consulted for a tentative on animal health. God bless Pakistdan.

Cautious | 7 years ago | Reply | Recommend

Pakistan has the ability to take a simple issue - and make it into an unsolvable conspiratorial mystery. No other nation on this planet would find the task of determining whether livestock were safe for consumption a daunting task. Another simple task that you should consider outsourcing.

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