KARACHI, Aug 13: Meat retailers are charging Rs240-250 per kg for mutton and Rs160 for beef (without bone) as compared to Rs220-230 and Rs140 per kg last month. Surprisingly, in many areas retailers have displayed banners at their shops, revealing the price of mutton at Rs180-200 per kg. In some areas retailers are charging Rs260 per kg for mutton.

Consumers are confused over price variations, as the merchants say meat quality actually determines the prices (low or high). As there is no yardstick to judge the quality of meat, consumers are virtually at the mercy of meat merchants “who easily cheat them by selling low quality meat at higher prices.”

Meat Merchants Welfare Association (MMWA) General-Secretary Iqbal Qureishi tries to defend the merchants involved in overcharging and refuses to accept that mutton is selling at Rs240-260 per kg in various markets. He said that mutton was priced at Rs220 per kg at retail stage.

When asked mutton is available at Rs180 per kg in various shops, he replied that it might be Chinese or Indian meat (frozen). Chinese and Indian meat now started coming into the local market and is available at Rs145 per kg at the wholesale level.

“How can a retailer sell mutton at Rs180 per kg when the wholesale price (locally-breed livestock) is Rs180 per kg,” he asked. He did not give any cogent answer when asked as to why mutton and other varieties of meat have different prices, especially in those big markets where consumers throng in larger number. “Higher price of meat means top quality,” he claims.

Iqbal Qureishi and MMWA Senior Vice-President Mohammad Salim Qureishi attributed the frequent increase in the price for the last many years to smuggling of live animals and export of meat to various foreign countries.

They said that hundreds of trucks loaded with bachia, ox and buffalo were finding their way into Afghanistan and Iran daily. Mutton and beef are also being exported to Arab countries.

They said that meat prices had been under pressure for the last three to four years since India and Pakistan had sealed their borders from where a sizable number of live animals used to be smuggled into Pakistan.

Since the smuggled live animals used to cover a sizable demand of the consumers, meat merchants have come out with the excuse for increasing the prices of mutton and beef on the pretext of suspension in arrivals of animals from India. And now they have found new issues, such as huge smuggling of live animals and meat exports from Pakistan, to justify increase in prices.

Salim Qureishi said the consumers were not willing to buy imported mutton and beef coming from neighbouring countries, as they prefer fresh meat on spot sales instead of frozen meat. He said that only restaurants and hotels were procuring cheap imported.

The consumers could avail the benefit of government’s import policies only when live animals from neighbouring countries would enter the Pakistani market, he said, adding that the price of meat was expected to come down when live animals from India would arrive in the next few months.

The MMWA office-bearers think that the demand for meat (mutton and beef) has dwindled in the last few years because of soaring prices. The consumers have restricted meat buying to a particular quantity instead of purchasing in big quantities as they have to meet other daily costly requirements.

There are conflicting figures of animals being slaughtered daily. Iqbal Qureishi says that 10,000-12,000 goats and 2,500-3,000 big animals are slaughtered daily, while Salim Qureishi reveals that 7,000 goats and 8,000 big animals are being slaughtered daily, legally and illegally at slaughter houses.

In the absence of any government check on quality and price, the meat merchants are fleecing the consumers. Like yesteryears, the government this year will take up the issue of meat price during Ramazan, but by that time the meat merchants would have done enough damage to the consumers.