Lebanon hit by chicken shortage as butchers blame cartels amid economic crisis

Lebanon is suffering from a chicken shortage as businesses complain government policy has made the meat unaffordable.

In the past weeks, butchers and supermarkets in Lebanon have run short of staple chicken products such as chicken breasts, shish tawouq, chicken wings and others.

Butchers and business owners blame the Ministry of Economy for the shortage. For almost two months, the ministry has required shops to sell chicken at a fixed rate of 1kg for 19,000 Lebanese lira – $12.5 according to the official rate of 1,515 to the dollar, yet only around $2 as per the black market exchange rate of 8,850 – to ensure it remains affordable.

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But according to one business owner, the government stopped providing a subsidy to shops three weeks ago while keeping the mandatory selling price in place.

Business owners have since complained that cartels running the chicken industry are selling their products to shops at a much higher price – making stocking chicken unprofitable and leading to shortages in small shops.

“The ministry is supporting major cartels of chicken producers and traders by subsidizing the price of chicken breasts at 19,000 lira and forcing small business owners and butcheries to sell accordingly. We cannot do so and consumers cannot afford purchasing it,” said Omar, who runs a small chicken place in a heavily congested residential area in Beirut.

A butcher prepares chicken breasts for sale in Beirut, Lebanon. (Supplied)
A butcher prepares chicken breasts for sale in Beirut, Lebanon. (Supplied)

Read more: Lebanon’s caretaker PM warns of ‘social explosion’ if central bank ends subsidies

Omar said he buys his chicken from a farm in Bekaa Valley for 14,000 lira per kg, sells it for 16,000, only making the marginal profit of 2,000 because he doesn’t want to lose more customers as the Lebanese economy continues to tank.

A customer entered Omar’s shop while Al Arabiya English was present and asked for a chicken. Hearing the price, she remarked “that’s too expensive,” and left.

“There you go. We’re losing clients. Earlier we used to sell the kilogram of chicken for 5,000 lira … this issue has tripled the prices,” said Omar. Lebanon is beset by inflation following the devaluation of the Lebanese lira and a broader economic crisis made worse by the August 4 Beirut explosion, which devastated much of the capital and destroyed the country’s main site for imports.

One butcher who also asked to remain anonymous tied the issue to wider political corruption.

“It has become obvious. The problem is political like everything in Lebanon. The chicken cartels [four or five major chicken producers and traders] are lobbying against butchers and small business owners wanting to dominate the market. Those lobbyists are covered and supported by political parties,” they said.

Another butcher concurred, blaming the Ministry of Economy for the issue.

“We all know who is controlling the market … it is the giant chicken producers and dealers. I have lost all my clients who consume chicken. Today [Tuesday] a housewife called and placed an order of four pieces of chicken breast and when I arranged from another place, I told her that the price is 37,000 lira … she canceled the order. We cannot survive like that,” said Khodor F.

People on a scooter drive by damaged traditional Lebanese house in Beirut. (File photo: Reuters)
People on a scooter drive by damaged traditional Lebanese house in Beirut. (File photo: Reuters)

The issue has also hit customers who rely on chicken as a staple source of protein.

Living in a Beirut outskirt, Mona Bassem, a working mother said she visited five supermarkets in her area but couldn’t find any chicken breasts.

“I prepare for my family’s meals over the weekend. Chicken is a major component of our dishes as my children love it. Since I heard that the authorities will stop subsidizing some poultry products, due to the country’s dire economic situation, I rushed to the supermarket to get extra chicken stocks and freeze them in my refrigerator. Last Friday, I couldn’t find any chicken breast. Saturday, I purchased extra amounts of chicken breasts and put them in the freezer,” Mona told Al Arabiya English.

On Tuesday, the Economy Minister, Raoul Nehme, and the Minister of Agriculture, Abbas Mourtada, in Lebanon’s caretaker cabinet issued a joint decision fixing the prices of meat and poultry and their derivatives – confirming the 19,000 price for chicken breasts and providing a long pricing list for other products.

The joint decision followed negotiations with the relevant unions, who promised to commit to the newly fixed prices and to provide the necessary quantities of goods to avoid any price manipulation. The decision also came to secure stability in the prices of goods linked, directly or indirectly, to the subsidy granted by the Lebanese Central Bank and based on the increase in the dollar exchange rate in the parallel market.

A media statement said the decision is valid for the next three months from its date of issuance and is subject to amendments whenever the circumstances require so and failure to adhere to the price ceilings by any party will be subject to legal action.

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