Updated 11:15am Monday, August 6:
The owner of a shipment of Australian cattle that has been held from slaughter in Egypt due to the presence of hormone growth promotants (HGPs) says the issue should be relatively straight-forward to solve – provided the Australian Government can work quickly to assure its Egyptian counterparts that HGPs pose no risk to human health.
Egyptian Government veterinarians last week placed a freeze on the slaughter of more than 16,000 Western Australian cattle that were shipped to the market aboard the MV Nada last month.
The veterinarians imposed the suspension order after they noticed Hormonal Growth Promotant (HGP) implants in the ears of some of the animals after they were processed.
News of the freeze was first reported by The Australian newspaper last Friday, which quoted an Egyptian Government veterinarian as saying the remaining 16,526 cattle in the consignment could be reloaded and sent back to Australia if they also were found to have HGP implants.
The newspaper said Egypt bans the use of hormones in beef because of health concerns.
However, Australian live export industry leaders say the Australian shipment complies fully with Egypt’s existing protocols governing cattle imports.
Australian Livestock Export Council chief executive Alison Penfold told Beef Central on Friday that HGPs are not covered or mentioned by Egypt’s existing health arrangements with Australia, which were signed between the two countries six years ago.
A DAFF spokesman also confirmed on Friday that Egyptian import requirements for live cattle from Australia do not require Government certification on the use of the hormones.
One of the exporters who assembled cattle for the shipment, Graham Daws of Emanual Exports, also told Beef Central last Friday that a team of eight Egyptian inspectors had examined and approved the consignment in Australia before it departed to Egypt in early July.
The use of HGPs in Australia is approved and regulated by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), which provides assurance that they are safe for consumers and not harmful to animals.
The Australian cattle at the centre of the freeze are currently in a feedlot at the Port of Sokhna, where Sokhna Imports owns and operates a ‘closed-loop’ feedlot and abattoir supply chain.
The closed-system is designed to ensure Australian cattle are fed and processed in Egypt according to Australian-Government approved welfare standards. After slaughter in the Sokhna abattoir, the meat is sold directly to local butchers.
Richard Leitch of Sokhna Imports told Beef Central that he understood that the Egyptian Government veterinarians who stopped the slaughter were not familiar with HGP implants and had imposed the freeze until they could get more information from the Australian Government.
He said the suspension was causing significant costs for his company by preventing cattle from being slaughtered at the height of the peak Ramadan demand period.
“We have desperately been trying to get someone from the Australian Government who knows what they’re talking about to clearly explain to Egypt that the HGP situation is not the big horror story that it has been made out to be,” Mr Leitch said.
“But we’re not having a lot of luck so far.
“I can understand where they’re coming from, they need to make sure they are covering all the bases in a professional and legal way, but we need it to be a bit quicker.
“It is Ramadan time, the busiest time of year for us, and now we’re copping this dramatisation of the issue.
“It is a big one, but it can be handled simply if someone with a background in veterinary science can go and meet with the Egyptian authorities.”
Mr Leitch said it was very concerning to have $20m worth of cattle sitting in a feedlot in a country that is now talking about sending them back.
“They have stopped the slaughter of cattle on an issue that they don’t understand,” he said.
“They are saying they are going to re-export the ship but the chances of that happening are very unlikely, because surely the Australian Government can step in there and help educate them on the issue.”
He told Beef Central this morning that Meat & Livestock Australia had sent a representative to Egypt over the weekend, and a meeting between Australian Government and Egyptian Government officials and industry representatives was due to take place in the country in an attempt to resolve the issue today.
“MLA stepped up to the plate as quick as they could,” Mr Leitch said. “We were pretty grateful for their support, as usual they were pretty prompt with their help.”
Exporter Graham Daws said on Friday that there had been no direct contact with industry about the issue.
He said the first he learned of the freeze was via the meda last Friday morning.
“Everything that was done with the cattle was done 100pc correctly, we have complied with all their requirements, so we can’t really get to the bottom of it,” Mr Daws said.
“To me it is just a storm in a tea cup at this stage.”
Egypt has been one of the main sources of optimism for Australia’s live export trade in recent times, with orders for Australian cattle increasing on the back of a significant shortage of beef in the market of 90 million people.
Extensive cattle culling due to a widescale Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in the country and protocol issues that have caused live cattle shipments from other suppliers, including Brazil, to be rejected have helped to increase demand in recent months for Australian cattle.
Egyptian consumers are also said to have a strong preference for Australian beef compared to other sources because of its clean and disease-free status.
The market has also become increasingly important to Australia this year because it provides a growing and viable alternative for the type of northern bos Indicus cattle that Indonesia has been reducing demand for as it strives to achieve self-sufficiency with its own herd.
Egyptian prices have also been rising as the beef shortage worsens.
ALEC chief executive Alison Penfold said the industry had been baffled by the freeze.
“Clearly we can only export animals that are consistent with what is required under the health protocol, and AQIS can’t approve an export unless the animals have been prepared along the lines of the health protocol, yet they (the Egyptians) have now raised an issue from left field,” Ms Penfold said.
“There is not much more we can do, the animals are in an approved facility in the feedlot there, their needs are being taken care of.
“There is engagement at a Government to Government level, if the Egyptians choose to renegotiate the health conditions, that is a separate matter, but we have complied with the current health conditions.”
In a written statement supplied to Beef Central on Friday afternoon, DAFF confirmed that it had been contacted by Egyptian authorities regarding the discovery of "what they believe may be hormone growth promotants in cattle recently shipped from Australia".
"DAFF Biosecurity issues health certification for consignments of livestock for export, according to the requirements of the importing country," the statement said.
"Egyptian import requirements for live cattle from Australia do not require certification from DAFF about the use of hormone growth promotants.
"Any additional commercial information provided with the consignment is a matter for the exporter.
"The Australian Government is continuing to liaise with Egyptian authorities on the matter."