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Pakistani red meat imports rise in wake of bird flu

Written by: Staff

KARACHI, Mar 23: Pakistan's imports of red meat, including beef from India, have shot up in the wake up of the bird flu scare to make up for a slump in consumption of locally produced poultry, industry officials said today.

Pakistan said on Tuesday that tests confirmed the dreaded H5N1 virus was present in samples from birds at two farms where avian flu had been detected on February. 27.

The authorities have culled all the chickens at both farms in Northwest Frontier Province, and officials say no other cases have been discovered despite extensive, nationwide checks.

Chicken had accounted for close to 45 percent of all meat consumption in Pakistan.

In a nation of meat-eaters, many people have stopped buying chicken and eggs, resulting in an almost 45 percent drop in prices and sales.

In the meantime, beef prices have soared from 15 rupees a kilogram to 150 rupees since news of the bird flu outbreak, potentially providing importers with healthy profit margins on foreign meat.

Muhammad Ali Malkani, junior minister for agriculture and livestock, said imports of frozen red meat, mainly from neighbouring India, were already rising.

''Private traders are negotiating new L/Cs (letter of credits) for bigger quantities,'' Malkani told Reuters. ''It's a logical outcome as the country needs suppliers after bird flu scares and India is the best option.'' Pakistan last year allowed duty-free import of meat and live animals from India and importers were booking 15 to 20 containers a month, each loaded with 27.5 tonnes of meat.

But Jamsheed Qureshi, a Karachi-based livestock trader said since the bird flu outbreak, Pakistani importers more containers from India.

''Our imports from India are likely to touch 40 containers a month because we are short of supplies,'' Qureshi added. At current retail prices for beef, the 40 container loads could sell for 165 million rupees 2.75 million dollars. Qureshi said Indian suppliers have increased their prices by 2,000 per container dollars, and Pakistani buyers are now paying 35,500 per container dollars, compared with 33,500 dollars in February.

Pakistani traders import Indian red meat at 75 rupees a kg, and another 30 rupees is added to the cost by the time it reaches a middleman and a further 25 rupees when it lands up at the butcher's shop.

Tariq Mehmood Butt, managing director of P K livestock and Meat Company -- a leading meat importer -- said his company has booked frozen mutton from Uruguay for the first time.

Pakistan buys most of its mutton from Australia and New Zealand.

''We have booked eight tonnes of meat from Uruguay on an experimental basis ...if the market accepts meat from there, we will book more orders,'' Butt said, adding the consignment was due to arrive in Karachi next week.

POULTRY Officials estimate Pakistan's poultry industry is losing 480 million rupees per day.

Maruf Siddiqui of the private Pakistan Poultry Association said the ex-farm price of chickens had fallen by more than half to 27-29 rupees per kg on Wednesday, from 70 rupees last month.

The price of a crate of 360 eggs had fallen to 510 rupees from 1,120 rupees. Pakistan's daily chicken consumption, before the bird flu scare, was up to 3 million and egg consumption was 16.2 million.

''People are scared and fears about the virus will continue to affect our industry for some time,'' Siddiqui said. ''But consumers need awareness that the virus was not found anywhere else in the country except in two farms.''


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