Friday, August 5, 2011


How hygienic and safe are the meat produced in many developing countries like India, Indonesia etc? Going by the relatively low food poisoning episodes from meat consumption reported in these countries one will be tempted to come to the conclusion that nothing is amiss as far as meat products made in these countries are concerned. But can it be true? The answer can be a resounding yes as well as no! Most of the slaughter houses that process the animals are invariably dirty, personnel working there are shabby and unclean, no refrigeration facility exists, crude slaughter practices are in vogue and so many other faults can be found with the industry. On the other hand most meat products are overcooked at home killing all the dangerous vectors that contaminate them and naturally such over processed foods must be safe. What is amazing is that the very same meat is even exported to many wealthy countries and the importers do not find any fault with them as reflected by low rate of rejection of these consignments at the receiving ports.

Meat industry in developing countries are undergoing significant changes and modernization is the "mantra" with the help of some of the advanced countries like Denmark. Hygienically sound and mechanized abattoirs, are being established in many developing countries, primarily to meet the stringent quality standards of the importers and safety assurance is ensured through rigorous inspections by qualified personnel deputed by the buyers. It was not long ago there were ramblings in Australia about the safety of fish imported from Asian countries as fish is alleged to be raised using animal excreta! However, the concern appears to be more about the low cost at which the fish is being imported which makes the local fish supplies expensive. Probably economic concerns seem to be far out weighing any genuine quality considerations!

There is no condoning of unsafe practices of raising and processing food whereever they occur but such concerns should not have an "apartheid flavor" as reflected by the shrill noises made about unsafe foods from Asian countries. With ISO quality protocols, HACCP regimes for safety assurance and many other global systems of safety certification being available for overseeing food quality, the origin of food should not make any difference when governed by these systems. Look at the clamor in some developed countries for printing the "country of origin" on any foods retailed in their markets which can only serve to generate a sense of ill-feeling towards any thing that is coming from the so called "dirty" countries, most of them in Asia. If this is not discrimination what else it is? What is the meaning and relevance of WTO if such practices are allowed to harm free global trade?

A recent report from Australia exemplifies the blatant practice of double standards by that wealthy country towards a relatively poor country like Indonesia. It appears 80% of the cattle exports from Australia, numbering about three quarter of a million, end up in Indonesia for slaughtering and processing into meat for local consumption. However beyond exporting the animals, Australia does not seem to be too much concerned about how these animals are slaughtered and whether the meat processed in such crude facilities are fit for human consumption. The export earnings in millions of dollars are derived from the poor people of a poor country and it is scandalous that the primitive practices of slaughtering and processing still continue in spite of the fact that Australia, technologically a super nation could have contributed to modernization of these abattoirs with little re-investment of their export earnings.

With the documentary exposure of unscientific and cruel slaughtering practices in vogue at more than 700 abattoirs in Indonesia, Government of Australia was forced to suspend active trade with Indonesia in live stock animals which immediately pinched the interests of cattle farms in export business. The philosophy seems to be that as long as the undesirable processing practices are not exposed, every thing is alright for the cattle farmers as well as the government but once the expose became public government had to take action by suspending trade with Indonesia which is indeed a hypocritical move. If there were genuine concerns, the Meat Board of Australia could have transformed the meat industry in Indonesia into a modern one long ago, capable of turning out high quality meat of international standard.

An indirect beneficiary of this episode is the Australian consumer community as the meat price in the domestic market started falling consequent to fall in prices of the live stock after the export ban. Whether it is good for them to increase more beef in their diet is another matter. In the light of implications of increased animal food consumption in many health complications, if the trade ban continues indefinitely it is likely that Australia may compete with the US for achieving the unenviable position as the most sickly nation!


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