Tuesday, 25 September

A Nutritional “Caveat Emptor”



Do you really want to eat imported Indian meat?

Armenia’s State Revenue Committee, responding to a Hetq query, stated that between 2007 and the first half of 2010, it had not uncovered any attempts to smuggle meat or meat byproducts into the country.

Artur Varzhapetyan, Head of the Ministry of Agriculture’s State Food Safety and Veterinary Inspectorate’s Division of Nutritional Safety, confessed that during the period in question, certain shipments of meat were not allowed in due to lab analysis findings.

Mr. Varzhapetyan pointed the case of a shipment of semi-processed meat from Georgia. His department prohibited its importation.

Then there was the case when an entire cargo of Russian milk was destroyed after it was found that the product expiration date had passed. Mr. Varzhapetyan couldn’t recall a similar incident involving meat.

The lack of any reported meat smuggling cases can perhaps be explained by the fact that Armenia’s land links to the outside world only traverse Georgia and Iran. Thus, it fairly easy to monitor what is being shipped into and out of Armenia.

What is interesting, however, is that the Indian meat scandal broke during the same time; in August of 2009. Government inspectors revealed that much of the meat being imported from India was of dubious quality. A whole host of safety standards were introduced and the Prime Minister made a point to publicize them on the airwaves.

Buffalo meat from dead animals

Readers might remember that at the time, the government disclosed what the food inspectors had found regarding Indian meat. Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan went so far as to state that “dead buffalo parts” often ended up in the meat being shipped to Armenia. We’re talking about animals that have died due to old age or sickness and then cut up and mixed with slaughtered animals.

Thus, the question to be answered is why the Food Safety Inspectorate didn’t discover this for themselves during their laboratory tests? The department has no answer.

“Preliminary examinations show that the imported meat was buffalo and that it was used for the production of various salami and sausage. Many countries ban the importation of Indian meat just because the risks involved are difficult to monitor. And our research has proven that the risk factor is quite high,” noted Prime Minister Sargsyan. “We must only allow meat to be imported into Armenia that is properly processes. We must take a strict approach on the matter. I repeat, only meat from certified producers must be imported.”

The Prime Minister then said that only meat from producers with more than five years of industry experience, that operate slaughter houses according to international standards, and that possess all the necessary safety certificates, could be imported.

Only 21% of meat from “safe” Indian producers

It turns out that there are only 17 meat producers in India that meet these requirements. These companies cover 85% of the domestic meat market. However, only 21% of the Indian meat being shipped to Armenia came from these “safe” producers.

In another revelation sure to turn the stomach of any meat eater in Armenia, the State Revenue Committee discovered that companies were using fake certificates to get the dead buffalo meat into the country. The Armenian importers would present the forged documents over to customs, verifying that the meat shipment had come from a certified Indian producer and not some back alley slaughter house.

Furthermore, it was revealed that one ton of non-certified meat in India was going for $2000. Meat from certified producers was a bit more expensive; $2150 – $2300 a ton.

Armen Poghosyan, President of the Consumers’ Association of Armenia says that even while the production of canned goods dropped 37% in Armenia last year, a byproduct of the overall economic slowdown, meat production grew a whopping 40%.

“This makes us very suspicious. The why we see it, buffalo meat of dubious quality is being imported from India to Armenia with little or no monitoring. When Armenian companies and their Indian counterparts signed the meat trade contracts, they also agreed to collaborate on a variety of issues. Sadly, the Food Safety Inspectorate has never been a part of that cooperative process. The whole story remains a mystery to us. Nothing of the kind should be allowed to happen,” says Mr. Poghosyan.

Grisha Baghinyan, head of the Food Safety Inspectorate, says that his agency conducts checks at the border crossings. All imported animal products undergo a document inspection and laboratory testing before being allowed in.

The Inspectorate can also make spot checks at Indian production facilities if warranted.

Armenian health inspector dispatched to India

After the Prime Minister publicly raised the issue of Indian meat, a delegation of Armenian food inspectors visited India.

Their findings revealed that a number of reprocessing plants get their meat from non-monitored sources and that the meat is transported in trucks not meeting acceptable sanitary standards. Furthermore, Mirha Exports, a company that supplies 57% of the meat imported to Armenia, refused to meet with the Armenian delegation.

Based on the delegation’s findings, the Armenian government decided to import meat from only four Indian companies – Allanasons, Al Kabeer Group, Amroon Foods and Hind Agro Industries. These were the four companies where violations were not found.

Meat from other Indian companies could only be imported after on-site inspection by Armenian specialists. It was also decided to post a permanent Armenian inspector in India to monitor the situation.

Exactly one year later, on August 19, 2010, the Armenian government drafted the job description of the permanent safety inspector to be dispatched to India. It also increased the number of years an Indian meat producer must be operating before any imports would be allowed from 5 to 10.

Mr. Baghinyan says the Armenian inspector has been sent to India and as of December 10 he must approve all meat and meat product imports to Armenia.

MP Aleksanyan the biggest meat importer

Before the buffalo meat story broke, there were 11 Armenian companies importing Indian meat to Armenia in 2008 and the first half of 2009.

The largest importer was Aleks-Grig, a company owned by MP Samvel Aleksanyan. The businessman cum politician imported 7,213 tons of meat and meat by-products in 2008, and 2,625 tons during the first six months of 2009. Coming in second was Mokanat Ltd., importing a total of 4,314 tons during the 18 month period. The Moush Company came in third with 2,083 tons.

The Indian meat exporters

As I have noted, the Armenian government decided that four Indian companies – Allanasons, Al-Kabeer, Amroon, and Hind Agro – could export buffalo meat to Armenia.

Allanasons Ltd. 
was founded in 1865 by Abdullah Alana in Bombay (presently Mumbai). It is now one of the largest Indian importers-exporters of processed fruit, coffee, frozen meat and seafood, and spices. The company is probably the biggest exporter of “halal” boned buffalo meat in India. It started to export buffalo meat back in 1969 and now ships to 64 countries in southeastern Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the CIS. It has a lock on about 60% of Indian meat exports.

Al Kabeer Group has been operating for around thirty years. The company specializes in the production of lamb, chicken and beef production. It has branches in ten overseas countries and its product line has over 300 items. Sahar Enterprises, its main holding, is headquartered in Dubai.

Amroon Foods is one of the top holdings of EMKE, a corporation based in Abu Dhabi known as a major meat processor. Buffalo meat is a main component of its product line. Indian lamb meat is also a major item. The company boasts on its website that the animals are fed no hormones, just pure grass.

Hind Agro Industries Ltd. was founded by the noted Muslim businessman and politician Sirajuuddin Kouresh in Delhi. It is the only Indian company that has a huge processing plant for buffalo, lamb and goat meat. It runs a joint 400 ton facility with the regional government of Uttar Pradesh in the far north of India. The bulk of the exported meat goes to the Arab states, Africa and the CIS.

During its 2009 visit to India, the Armenian food safety delegation discovered that the largest exporter of meat to Armenia at 57% was Mihra Exports Private Ltd.

This company refused to meet with the delegation members.

Mihra was founded in Delhi and for the past ten years has been mostly producing boned buffalo meat. It also sells lamb and internal organs. It has abattoirs in the north of India. The company can produce 3,000 tons per month.

Two of its leading brand names are Al Nisar and Amber.

The company exports to some 25 countries including Afghanistan, Angola, Iraq, Senegal, Georgia and Azerbaijan.


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