Meat, milk prices in Karachi recovering from cattle disease shock amid concerns

Published April 12, 2022
A customer stands at a shop that sells milk at Rs100 per litre. —Fahim Siddiqi /White Star
A customer stands at a shop that sells milk at Rs100 per litre. —Fahim Siddiqi /White Star

KARACHI: While concern among citizens still exists over the quality and safety of milk and beef being sold in markets, their prices have recovered from the shock triggered by the outbreak of the lumpy skin disease (LSD), reveal a recent survey of some markets and conversation with representatives of dairy farmers and traders.

Last month, milk and meat sales in Karachi had gone 60 to 70 per cent down and many retailers sold their commodities at much lower rates than the official ones. Still there are shops in many city areas where shopkeepers are selling meat and milk at discounted rates. However, dairy and meat bodies cast doubts over the quality of these commodities being sold at lower rates.

“The crisis created by the LSD outbreak is over and the retail price of milk is stable at Rs150 per litre across the city. On the first day of Ramazan, milk was auctioned at Rs180 to Rs190 per litre in the open market,” said Shaukat Mukhtar representing the Karachi Dairy Farmers’ Association.

According to him, it’s not viable to sell milk lower than this rate at the retail level and those who are doing it may have adulterated their product.

Dairy farmers warn of acute milk shortage in Karachi after Eid

Mr Mukhtar regretted what he described as exaggerated propaganda over the LSD outbreak that led to widespread public health concern over milk quality and safety, causing a sharp decline in milk prices.

“This had a profound negative impact on dairy farmers who were already incurring losses due to animal illness and mortality,” he explained, pointing out that the situation turned so bad that dairy farmers were forced to sell milk at prices as low as Rs70 per litre last month.

“This happened despite repeated explanations from public health experts that the LSD doesn’t transmit to humans even through milk or meat of the infected animals,” he said.

Dr Saeed Khan, a professor of molecular pathology heading the Sindh Public Health Lab at the university, however, was of the view that LSD affected the quality of milk and meat.

“The quality of milk and meat of infected animals is definitely compromised, though LSD is not transmitted from animals to humans,” he said, while emphasising the need for testing the quality of food products being sold in markets.

An LSD outbreak was reported in the first week of March in Sindh, affecting several cattle farms in the province, including Karachi. While there has been a significant drop in cases in Karachi, the disease continues to affect animals in other parts of the province. The outbreak is now being contained through vaccination against the disease.

Govt role in outbreak

According to Mr Mukhtar, all animals affected by a disease outbreak are culled in the developed countries and in turn farmers are officially compensated for the losses.

“This can never happen in a country like ours where small investors launch their businesses at their own risk and there is no support from the government whatsoever.

“In our case, majority of dairy farmers affected by the LSD outbreak had to sell off their ailing animals for slaughter as they couldn’t afford prolonged wait for animal recovery.”

On behalf of the city’s dairy farmers, he appealed to the government to look into the affairs of Landhi’s Cattle Colony, the largest and oldest animal market in Karachi operating in poor civic infrastructure for decades.

“The only veterinary hospital in the colony has been in a shambles for years, lacking medical facilities and sufficient staff. In such conditions, how could one expect farmers, majority of whom are illiterate, to properly handle an outbreak of the disease that has been reported for the first time in the country.”

Representatives of dairy farmers and milk retailers were of the view that the city might face an acute shortage of milk after Eid.

Explaining its reasons, Abdul Waheed Gaddi, representing the Karachi Milk Retailers Welfare Association, shared that dairy farmers replaced old buffaloes and cows with new ones periodically to sustain the market. But, this process, he stated, could not take place in March because of fears over the LSD outbreak.

“There is a 100 per cent shortage, but it’s not being felt right now because hotels and restaurants are closed in Ramazan. Once routine activities resume, milk shortage will hit the city.”

According to him, farmers could not buy cows out of fear and many farming cross-breed cattle lost their animals. “Dairy farmers relied on lactating dairy cows for supplies from February till June as less buffaloes were available in the market.”

Meat merchants in court

Asked about meat market stability after the LSD outbreak, Haji Abdul Majeed of the Meat Merchant Association said the crisis was over and people were buying beef and mutton like before. “Right now, the price of beef is around Rs700 to Rs750 whereas mutton is being sold for Rs1600 to Rs1,700.”

The Karachi commissioner, he complained, had fixed the mutton price at Rs1,220 without consulting stakeholders; he was not even ready to listen to their grievances.

“No time has been given to us for a meeting despite the request. And, on top of it, meat merchants are being humiliated and fined. We have petitioned against this step and are waiting for a court hearing,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2022

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