Three weeks after Egyptian authorities unexpectedly blocked a shipment of Australian cattle from being processed due to the presence of hormone growth promotants – which are not prohibited by Egyptian health protocols – the freeze drags on.
In the meantime the peak Ramadan consumption season that the cattle were imported to supply has passed, resulting in significant costs for the importer.
Commercial sources close to the issue have told Beef Central that representatives from Meat and Livestock Australia and the Australian Government have been working hard to explain to Egyptian authorities that HGPs pose no risk to human health or animal welfare.
Egyptian officials are understood to have accepted that HGPs do not pose a health risk but will not release the Australian cattle for processing until they have completed their own testing to assure local consumers that the cattle are safe.
The Egyptian media has reportedly made big news out of the issue, with many articles perpetuating the misconception that HGP implants cause cancer.
A total of 15,000 cattle were impounded at the Port of Sokhna three weeks ago, where the Sokhna Livestock Company operates a closed feedlot and abattoir facility.
Cattle are walked 800m from the ship to a port-side feedlot and abattoir, operated according to Australian Government-approved welfare standards. The beef is then sold to local butchers.
A second shipment of about 15,000 Australian cattle exported to a different importer, which arrived in the market two weeks ago, have also been held up by the HGP-freeze.
Trade sources, who have asked not to be named, have described the freeze as ‘frustrating’ because the cattle have been held from sale during the busiest time of year over what is essentially a non-issue.
Egyptian health protocols do not prohibit HGP implants, many shipments with HGP implants have been received by the country without incident before, and Egyptian inspectors inspected and approved the cattle before they left Australia.
In the meantime the gap created in the market by the freeze on Australian beef is likely to have been filled by importers bringing in cattle from Northern Africa, where livestock diseases are prevalent. Cattle typically flow into Egypt from Africa by being walked along the Nile from Sudan and Ethiopia or shipped in via the Red Sea from ports in Djibouti.
One source said the decision to block Australian beef had effectively cut-off a source of clean, healthy and disease-free beef for Egyptian consumers during their greatest period of beef demand, and replaced it with beef from countries where cattle diseases are a major issue.
Trade sources hope the Australian cattle will be released for processing in coming days, but the time-frame rests with the Egyptian authorities and their testing program.