Pork import ban remains due to swine flu concerns in India 

MB Subba

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) has lifted the ban on import of processed and packaged meat, fish and dry fish except pork with effect from June 22.

The decision comes at a time when Bhutanese farmers are unable to meet the meat demand. Meat shops opened a few days ago after a month-long Saga Dawa but most of them were empty as of yesterday.

However, import of raw meat will not be allowed. “Now we can import meat but they should be processed and packaged, not in the raw form,” Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said.

“In the light of border management to prevent Covid-19, import of raw meat as before is not allowed.”

The buying and selling of local meat, however, is being allowed with proper adoption of preventive measures against Covid-19.

The importers should be registered with the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA). The ministry has notified that wholesale importers would distribute to retail shopkeepers.

“In the interest of keeping everyone in business, we have asked wholesale importers not to sell directly in the local market. We have also asked retailers not to hike the price,” the minister said.

The government had imposed meat and fish import restrictions in the wake of Covid-19 since March 23.

Meat shops owners say they are waiting for imported meat to meet their customer demand.

Local suppliers and farm entrepreneurs are struggling to meet the demand. But the shortage would have been more severe if hotels were open.

Meat vendors in Thimphu are yet to receive supplies of imported meat.

“It’s very difficult to get supplies from farmers. They have hiked the prices of meat which has forced us to increase prices,” a meat vendor in Thimphu said.

Some customers shared their concerns about the price and quality of meat. A customer said she bought a layer chicken worth Nu 650 but later found out it was partly rotten.

Another customer said that the BAFRA should step up monitoring of the price and meat quality.

A 28-year-old restaurant operator in Changzamtog said that she was unable to offer meat items on the menu. “The meat vendor had some meat in his shop, but he said that it was reserved by some people,” she said.

The agriculture ministry wants to take the Covid-19 pandemic as a blessing in disguise. But one of the reasons for the inability to achieve self-sufficiency in meat is said to be the religious belief.

Last year, the country imported more than 12,102 metric tonnes of meat, worth Nu 1.134 billion, according to a recently released Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) annual statistics.