By Syed M. ASLAM
Nov 10 - 16, 2003



If the butchers of Karachi be allowed to have their way the denizens of the biggest metropolis of the country would celebrate the auspicious festival of Eid-ul-Fitr without meat red that is. They not only resorted to unannounced increase in prices as usual during the holy month of fasting Ramazan but also expected the City Government not to take notice of it. Instead they wanted the City Government to not only look the other way but also to provide legal cover to the unacceptable extortion by fixing the prices that they demanded.

Just a day before the advent of the holy month, which begun on the 28th of the last month according to solar calendar, the butchers, most of them at least, saw it fit to arbitrary push the price of mutton to Rs 220 per kilogram, way above the official price of Rs 150 per kilo and their own unofficial price of Rs 180 per kilo a day before. When the City Government took notice of it the Meat Merchants' Welfare Association, their representative body, came up with all its own 'reasons' to justify the all too common profiteering practices.

It also put up a show of negotiating with the top officials of the City Government including its Chief Naimatullah Khan. The failure of the talks, which was used mainly as a ploy by the butchers to justify an otherwise undefendable position, did not surprise anyone because the butchers have long developed the habit of increasing the prices of red meat mutton, beef, lamb or buffalo exorbitantly at this time of the Islamic calendar when the consumers are at their most vulnerable to offer any resistance. While they have become accustomed to increase the prices of red meat at will throughout the year, the festive season has always drawn their special attention as a time to make a long-term killing.

By the time these lines are written battle lines are drawn between the City Government and the butchers the former firmly refusing to fix the price of mutton at Rs 180 per kilo and the later announcing to go on an indefinite strike until it is. The chief of the City Government Naimatullah Khan has reiterated his position that he would not be blackmailed and also asked the people to not to eat the red meat for a month. He also said that the City Government has decided to make arrangements to sell competitively priced meat at saving bazaars held on various days of the week throughout the city. He also accused the meat sellers of adopting a threatening behavior adding that "he has decided to have a showdown with all kinds of 'mafia'.

PAGE attended a seminar organised by the Pakistan Press Foundation on the 'Need for a comprehensive meat policy'. It was attended, among others, by the Secretary General of Meat Merchants' Association Iqbal Qureshi whose tone was most threatening. For instance, he seemed to exude perverted pleasure in pressing his unacceptable demand predicting mutton and beef prices touch Rs 250 and Rs 150 kilogram levels by next Ramazan. When the press reporters attending the seminar asked the officials of the Office of Ombudsman and the City Government, who also attended the seminar as invited speakers, about whether the government would be able to implement its dictate, Qureshi threateningly said that 'butchers have knives'. Looks like the profiteering-prone meat sellers need a shock treatment that they really deserve not only from the decision makers but also from the people who have got sick and tired of their greedy practices.


Before we discuss many options available to give the meat sellers the shock treatment that they deserve, let us discuss the pattern of the demand of red meat in Karachi.

S. Nasim Hyder, the adviser, Ombudman's Secretariat and Member of Committee set up by Sindh's Ombudsman tasked to visit city government's slaughter houses, major meat markets and retail outlets, was one of the four invited speakers including Iqbal Qureshi. He told the participants that around 5,000 goats and 1,750 big animals including cows and buffaloes are slaughtered at the three government slaughterhouses 2 in Landhi and one in New Karachi everyday in the city except, of course, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the three official meatless days of the week.

Mr. Hyder put the daily demand for the red meat, both mutton and beef, in the city at around 400,000 kilograms only half of which is supplied by the three official slaughterhouses. The remaining 200,000 kilograms of the meat finds its way into the market unofficially to be primarily market comprises catering houses, wedding ceremonies and other such ceremonies, restaurants and eateries throughout the city, he added.

Stressing the need for the comprehensive meat policy Mr. Hyder said that the arbitrary and routine price increases by the meat sellers deprive the other stakeholders such as cattle farmers, traders, wholesalers, retailers and the consumers of a voice. "It has not only encouraged developing of monopolistic tendencies on the part of the meat sellers to exploit the consumers at will in term of arbitrary price increases but has also resulted in numerous mal-practices.

"For instance, according to the findings of a report prepared by committee formed by the Ombudsman in February this year and submitted to the City Nazim (Chief) on August 16, around 10 per cent of the animals brought to the city for slaughter die in transit and yet their meat remains unaccounted for. Where does that unaccounted meat from the animals died during the transit, the value of which totals around Rs 1.5 million each day, go? In addition, a similar percentage of animals also die from various diseases at the Cattle Colony of which there is no official record either of their deaths nor of their exhumation. We feel that the meat from these sick animals dying unnatural deaths is sold in the poor localities of the city as well as to the food vendors. These two forms of unaccounted deaths, during transit and by various diseases, adds up to 20,000 kilograms of meat each day which we suspect finds its way into the market to pose serious threats to the health of an unsuspecting public."

Mr. Hyder also expressed serious concerns about numerous other trade vices undermining the public health. "The average age of buffalo is about 10 years during which it gives milk at times and no milk at others. The buffaloes are given the milk-inducing injections to ensure smooth milk supply but the shots reduces the lives of the animals by half after which they are sold to the butchers for slaughter. The meat of these buffaloes whose lives are cut short by the injection is extremely harmful to the human health but flows steadily into the market in huge quantities. Buaffalo meat makes up over 90 per cent of all cattle slaughter in Karachi to pose serious risks to the health of unsuspecting consumers. The meat sellers, however, has find a novel way to pass the buffalo meat as cow meat by using dyes to give the fat a golden yellow colour, the colour of cow fat. The consumers are also cheated by the butchers who routinely pass off the comparatively low priced sheep meat as mutton."

But the excesses of the butchers just don't end here. There are many more ways to fleece the consumers. Novel methods have been find to improve the profit, all of them unethical. For instance, the butchers and all those related with the trade have find novel ways to increase the weight of the meat artificially by watering the carcass which makes it bloats and gain weight which is unreal. A kilogram of meat weighed at a butcher's scale losses one-fourth of its weight by the time it is cooked. In addition, the consumers are forced to pay a premium price for a meat which is first weighed and then cleaned losing a substantial portion of its weight in the process.



Meat sellers are offered the maximum facilities minimum charges

Mr. Hyder also highlighted many other instances of gross irregularities including ghost employees, shady record keeping and lack of financial unaccountability. He said that during the visit of one slaughterhouse the team was able to detect only one sweeper was present though the payroll showed that there were 140 sweepers were employed and the ghost workers are costing the City Government Rs 5.7 million a year alone. He also said that though the Meat Merchants' Welfare Association receives Rs 5 million a year from the contract of blood supply from the three slaughter houses it has done nothing to spend money on the welfare of the workers there. The workers at the slaughterhouses are working in the most unhygienic and uncaring environs deprived of even a half decent clothing and shoes not mention any protective gear. While the City Government charge the butchers a slaughter fee of Rs 3 and Rs 10 for goat and cow/buffalo respectively, which is not only low but also is not fully received by it due to undercounting, it pays the salaries of the loaders. The meat sellers are charged the minimal slaughter fee while the City Government pays the salaries of the loaders though the transportation trucks and the animals belong to the meat sellers, he added. "This is an entirely loss making operation for the City Government and yet the butchers see it fit to demand, and go on a strike, to force the government for unacceptable price increases."

Iqbal Qureshi refused to provide any information why the 'blood money' of Rs 5 million a year earned by his organisation from the contract is not used on the welfare of the workers at the slaughter houses to provide them with better and safe working environment. He haughtily brushed aside the question saying that "it is our personal matter and the press has no right to know about it." Haughty? Indeed. However, that did not desist him to justify the demand to increase the meat prices to the journalists present at the seminar.


He based his justification on three primarily factors: Firstly, the shortage of livestock evident from two weekly meat holidays nationwide since 1973 and three holidays since last few years. Secondly, the massive smuggling of the livestsock to Iran and Afghanistan. And thirdly, the export of meat as well as livestock to a number of countries in the Middle East.

He accused the administration of doing nothing but minting money and its officials being encouraging the unofficial slaughter possible only through the greasing of palms. He also said that the long dry spells in Thar in Sindh and Baluchistan province, as well as closure of borders with India have seriously affected the supply of cattle stock. The destroying of the livestock in Afghanistan during the war has also put a pressure on an already precarious livestock supply here in the country because 'we are meeting the demand of read meat in that country' which has resulted in smuggling like never before, he claimed. He also claimed that at least 70 trucks loaded with livestock from Punjab crosses the Chaman border in Baluchistan the ultimate destinations of which are Iran and Afghanistan. He, however, failed to explain why despite such massive smuggling of livestock from Punjab meat prices in that province remains much lower than in Karachi. He also claimed that Thar used to supply 50 per cent livestock to Karachi but it now supplies only 5 per cent and that the prices of buffalo has risen from Rs 8,000-10,000 to Rs 20,000-22,000. He also claimed that the country has no meat surplus and yet the export of meat and livestock is allowed.


While common sense dictates the need to verify how true these claims are the EDO of the Enterprise and Investment Promotion of the city government and the convenor of the committee set up by the City Nazim to investigate about the recent meat issue, Raeesuddin Paracha, rejected Iqbal Qureshi's claim that exports is one of the major reasons for his demand for increasing the meat prices. "Exports make up just one per cent of the official meat production in the country and that in no way puts any pressure on the domestic market."

He also warned the meat sellers that "if meat can be exported it can also be imported to retail for much lower than the price that the meat sellers are demanding. We would encourage the private sector to import the meat which would cost the consumers at less than Rs 100 per kilo cleaned, cut, packed and refrigerated. We have also received enquiries from many unemployed youths whether they can sell the meat and we have told them that the official slaughter houses are open to every one and we would be happy to facilitate them."

PAGE has also learnt from highly placed within the City Government that it has approached the two Karachi-based meat exporters to supply their cut, cleaned, packed and refrigerated products in the local market to deliver a strong message to the meat sellers. At this point in time the negotiations with the exporters are in final stages and by the time you read this article the local exporters may already have started pumping their products in the market.

It is time to give meat sellers the shock treatment that they really deserve. The unjustified and high price increase demanded by the meat sellers is about to change the face of meat industry for the benefit of consumers which deserve more respect from the greedy meat sellers who have taken the people hostage for too long.