The discovery last month of a donkey meat farm in the Egyptian town of Faiyum has sparked a food scandal in the country, as it emerged a number of restaurants had served customers donkey meat. Authorities seized 1,500 live and 30 dead donkeys from the farm.
At the time, a lion tamer told Arabic newspaper Youm7 the farm was only slaughtering old and crippled donkeys, and was only selling them to the National Circus for consumption by its big cats. But according to the paper, authorities believe the meat was being distributed to vendors for human consumption.
‘I can’t tell the difference’
Since then the scandal has widened, as Hussein Mansour, head of the Food Safety Agency, has spoken out on the issue, albeit with somewhat contradictory messages. On the one hand, Mansour said consumers should not be worried about eating donkey meat, as it was safe for human consumption if slaughtered properly.
On the other hand, he also told Egyptian television that the country’s consumers had been eating not just donkey meat, but also dog meat for many years, according to tests done on minced meat. He said they tasted just like any other meat, adding “even I can’t tell the difference”.
More seriously, days later Mansour condemned Egypt’s meat slaughtering industry in general, telling Arabic-language El Watan News there was “no fresh or Halal meat” in the country, because of the poor standards of slaughter and hygiene. He said 40% of meat is being wasted, with meat ending up contaminated and dirty, and with animals suffering at the hands of unqualified butchers.
Egypt is currently suffering from a major meat shortage, which has seen prices rise by 30% during Ramadan, according to the country’s butchers’ association, with another 10% increase likely over the upcoming Eid Al-Fitr celebrations. Last month Egypt’s Meat Importers Association said the country had imported almost US$200m of meat from abroad this Ramadan, with prices up 25% because of currency fluctuation.
So while dog and donkey meat are not permitted for human consumption under Islamic law, it is not surprising that some vendors would turn to forbidden meats to satisfy demand. Scandals around dog and donkey meat are not new to Egypt: in 2008 two butchers were caught selling donkey meat, along with dog meat, after being inspired by the sight of animal carcasses in canals and swamps, according to Al Arabiya.
Egypt’s latest food safety scare is also reminiscent of Europe’s horse meat debacle of 2013, when it came to light that complex supply chains had allowed unscrupulous suppliers to introduce horse meat into the human food chain on an industrial scale.