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Buying meat in Dubai

Published by Paul O'Sullivan in Internation Food · 13/8/2015 19:11:54
Tags: DubaiMLAaussieLambAussiebeef

During our visit to Dubai, we were privileged to be shown around the livestock and meat scene by Dr David Beatty, Meat and Livestock Australia’s senior executive in the Middle East and North Africa region. The industry has identified this market as having huge growth potential, and is working hard to get Australian beef and lamb into the supermarkets and food service sector. This region continues to be a large market for our live animal exports and much work is being done with local partners to continually improve the established good animal health and welfare protocols.
The Dubai livestock market will long live in the memory of this food adventurer. It is not an auction system like ours, but animals are kept yarded, fed and watered for up to a week by traders who sell them for a negotiated price, usually one at a time to individuals for their personal consumption. These sheep and goats have been bought by the traders (largely Indians and Pakistanis) from small farmers or large importers, and come in all shapes, colours and sizes.

Upon entering the market place we were almost mobbed by the traders keen to show us their pen of animals, and ready to start dealing. Once we clarified we weren’t actually in the market to buy, their enthusiasm switched to posing for the camera, nursing their best animal.

Then it was down to business. With David leading the way, we sat down with one of the older traders to discuss the state of the market. They were gracious hosts, keen to offer us a cup of tea (coming with 5 teaspoons of sugar and the Liptons tea bag still in the foam cup) and water – a necessity in the 45 degree heat! No surprise - he said the job’s tough and there’s no money in the game – clearly meat traders are the same worldwide!!

All these "local" animals (which include those imported from India, Somalia and Pakistan) had little fat cover, and compare poorly in size and shape to the Australian sheep, but generally sell for a higher price – locals supporting the local product! By comparison the Australian sheep, which would probably yield around 20kg sell for approximately A$400, while a small local lamb/goat yielding around 5kg of meat sell for A$250-300. Apparently these small carcasses are cooked whole, placed on a bed of rice on the table and diners pick the meat directly off the carcass.
So what does the local do with his new purchase? If it’s an Australian sheep, the animal is walked up the loading ramp and into a stock crate for cartage to the abattoir next door – there’s a paper trail to ensure the movement of Australian live animals from arrival to their final destination is done according to proper animal welfare protocols.
Different story for the locally bred animals which are tossed in the back of a car or ute, legs tied. Traditionally, many of these animals were killed at home, but authorities are trying to eliminate this practice, and encourage purchasers to use the subsidised local abattoir. Here the buyers will watch their new purchase slaughtered according to Islamic law, then prepared for the butcher at the end of the line. All this is done from a purpose built viewing area – the owners keep a close eye that they do actually receive the same carcass they came with. So, about one hour from buying the animal, the consumer has his animal butchered and bagged to take to his car in a supermarket trolley.
We visited the meat works and met the chief vet, with whom David has developed a strong relationship. Another gracious host, who insisted we have Arabic coffee with him. He was proud of the meatworks and its animal welfare and OH & S protocols, and keen to give us a guided tour. They spoke of the ongoing research and trial work to continually improve the welfare of Australian animals arriving here.
Along with the chief vet we met a most intriguing young local woman, Fatimah, who had the serious responsibility for OH & S and disease monitoring at the meatworks. University trained in Dubai, she had the presence somewhat of a groundbreaker – high heels, glossy lipstick and working in a male dominated industry in a male dominated country. One of our group, who had lived in the Arab States for a few years, said this was the first time a local Muslim woman had extended her hand for handshake, looking him straight in the eyes.
Then it was off to three suburban supermarkets – budget, midrange and top end outlets. The meat section of the first shop had an array of Australian and local meat cuts on offer in the butcher’s window, with the local product being a much lighter colour – not attractive to my eyes! The next two higher end supermarkets had much nicer presentations, with most meat pre-packaged on shelves, with large "Aussie lamb" stickers clearly showing point of origin. The colour of the meat was beautiful. Interesting to note that Welsh lamb is seen here as an elite product – selling at twice the price of the Australian cuts. The main competition for Australian beef sales is Indian buffalo beef, with more expected to come from South America and South Africa. (The successful marketing by the Angus Society was again on display where pre-packaged beef was simply labelled as "Angus" meat.)
David gave us a fascinating insight into the meat industry of a completely different culture, on the other side of the world. So it was with great pride that this farmer saw Aussie beef and lamb featured on the menu of 5 star hotels’ restaurants. Well done to the MLA team.
So that ended our short stay in Dubai. Time to return to the green grass, pregnant cows and lambing ewes of Malabar Farm and for these Food Adventurers to get back to work!

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