Chopped Liver is No Free Lunch

On any given street corner in urban Egypt, three Egyptian pounds ($0.19) can buy you a liver sandwich dripping with hot sauce. But critics claim the spices mask an unpalatable secret: imported, adulterated liver.

Local butchers complain that interruptions in the cold chain, processing delays, and a lack of quality control for imported livers lead to health and food safety risks. They claim that unscrupulous vendors douse cheap imported liver with blood to make it look like a fresh local product.

In January 2021, the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade seized two tons of spoiled imported liver in Alexandria that was bound for the local market. In February, investigators seized at least 160 kilograms of spoiled liver across five businesses in Suez.

Egypt is one of the largest beef liver importers in the world. In 2019, the country imported over 90,000 metric tons of beef offal, most of which was liver, and about two-thirds of which came from the United States. Price is a big factor: imported liver is less than a fifth the cost of the domestic product.

Still, Egypt is beefing up its domestic meat production. The Ministry of Agriculture announced that domestic red meat accounted for 57 percent of consumption in 2020, up from 44 percent in 2014. Among its efforts to modernize the domestic meat industry are encouraging increased investments in animal husbandry and promoting licensing. The number of licensed livestock businesses rose from 145 in 2017 to nearly 65,000 in 2020.

Partly this helps the Egyptian butchers syndicate, but the government portrays it as part of an effort to ensure meat quality. The health risks associated with spoiled imported meat mean there’s still no such thing as a free lunch.

This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.

Humzah Khan

Humzah Khan

Former Research Associate, Global Health Policy Center