Thursday 7 April 2011


If we presume that the population of Iraq numbers some 30 million people it should be relatively straightforward to calculate the meat, (both red and white), requirement for the nation using accepted data for meat consumption per capita. However in Iraq, as in the other countries of the Middle East, the slaughtering of animals and the consumption of their meat has, from time immemorial been used to mark a variety of occasions and this would need to be considered. As an example, during the month of Ramadan when Muslims fast during daylight, the demand for meat in the countries of the Middle East actually triples.
The countries of the Middle East, including Iraq, suffer from a shortfall in meat production, particularly with regard to red meat and to a lesser extent in the case of white meat. This inability for supply to meet demand results from:
1. A 50% reduction in the pasture land available for livestock rearing during the last 4 to 5 decades as land was taken for agricultural or other purposes.
2. The recurrence of drought which has afflicted the Region since biblical times.
3. Increased demand for meat related to religious celebrations e.g. the Eid ,Ramadan.
4. An ever increasing rise in population.
5. The sudden economic improvements that resulted in an increase in the hard currency available to people leading to their ability to afford to buy more meat.
6. In the case of Iraq the increased demand for meat coupled with its geographical location has resulted in a huge rise in the movement of animals, both legal and illegal, across its borders and this in turn has increased the risk of Transboundary Animal Diseases (TADs) that kill animals and can pose a serious risk to human health. Yesterday it was announced that FMD (Foot and Mouth Disease) has been recorded all over Iraq in sheep, cattle and buffalos. This will have a devastating effect on the livestock population in Iraq.
Unfortunately there is little reliable statistical data available for Iraq in terms of both human and animal populations. No full census of the population has been carried out or figures obtained for livestock and other agriculture activities, especially in Kurdistan under Saddam’s regime. In addition the country as a whole has around 24 border cross points, official or unofficial, where movements into and out of the country occur and hence it can be very difficult to ensure that correct statistical data of livestock movements are obtained.
I therefore always take figures with a pinch of salt but I have endeavoured to put together some accepted figures and statistics with assistance from the Iraq’s Director of Veterinary Services. It is accepted that the dietary habits of the country with regard to red meat reveals that consumption of red meat is 57% sheep. 27% beef, 12% goat meat, 3% water buffalo and 1% camel meat. In total only 20-25% of the red meat consumed is locally produced with the remainder from imported animals or meat from a number of countries.
In Baghdad the weekly meat consumption data is accepted as 400gm of beef and 200gm of mutton per capita per week. Therefore Baghdad’s population alone requires 832,000 head of cattle and 4,160.000 head of sheep per annum to satisfy the demand for red meat. However slaughterhouse statistics reveal that only 6,818 cattle and 16,039 sheep, less than 1% of the required numbers of both cattle and sheep, are officially slaughtered. In 2006 the slaughterhouse records for 14 governorates, excluding 3 governorates of Kurdistan and Anbar, showed a total of 246,927 sheep, 53,513 goats, 115,752 cattle, 10,893 buffalo and 4,397 calves were slaughtered. As a large number of live animals are imported into Iraq there must be a large number of animals that are slaughtered outside official slaughterhouses and therefore no reliable meat inspection and control measures taking place.
In the case of white meat, Iraq does produce almost 25% of the birds it requires. Kurdistan’s poultry industry is currently running at 20% of its capacity and the farms in the rest of Iraq are at a similar level of production. However the poultry industry faces two major problems, namely it is forced to rely on the importation of poultry feed and competition from cheap poultry neat imported from Brazil via Iraq’s neighbours.
When I was a student in Baghdad University from 1963 we were told that the population of Iraq was around 6 or 7 million and the country had some 20 million ruminant livestock. The country now has a population that has more than quadrupled to 30 million people but our ruminant livestock has dwindled to a few million. While becoming self sufficient in terms of meat production may not be achievable we should not remain reliant on imported meat and we must endeavour to produce more of the meat that we consume. We need to take urgent steps in order to do so and the lack of reliable agricultural census data hinders any scientific approach to the issue.

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