- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

A ban on goats imported from Canada has created a nationwide shortage and will soon disrupt the celebration of Eid al-Adha for some American Muslims.

Since the United States closed its border to all ruminant animals from Canada because of concerns over mad cow disease, Muslims cannot import live goats. They are sacrificed during Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holy day that, this year, falls on Feb. 1.

“Because of the shortage of animals, the prices are going to go up, very high,” said Mohammed Sadek, the international director of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America.

Though Canada usually provides the main portion of the goats sacrificed during one of the most important feasts in the Islamic calendar, the U.S. import ban obliges consumers and slaughterhouses to find new sources of live goats, mostly from local farms in the United States.

“Goats are very rare here [in America],” said Mr. Sadek, who foresees an increase in prices of up to 50 percent.

The U.S. Agriculture Department banned the importation of all live ruminants — sheep, cattle, goats, deer and bison — after a case of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was discovered in Alberta, Canada, last May.

“With the regulations in place now, we are able to ship deboned meat from goats under 1 year of age, but for most parts of the country, that option is impossible,” said Sandy Larocque, general manager of the Canadian National Goat Federation. “We just do not have the processing facilities that we need to undertake this venture.”

And, according to tradition, animals have to be sent live and sacrificed in the country where the Muslim faithful live.

Symbolizing Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, Eid al-Adha is a feast of communal prayer followed by the sacrifice of an animal that concludes the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Sheep, cows, goats and even camels are among the animals accepted for sacrifice, but because of a strong concentration of Muslims from South Asia, goats are the most popular in the United States. According to Mr. Sadek, more than 60 percent of U.S. Muslims, mostly from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, would prefer to sacrifice goats for Eid al-Adha.

“If there is no goat available, then obviously … they might just send the money out and get it done in the home country,” instead of substituting sheep or cows for goats, he said.

But Sayyid Syeed, secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America, does not see the live-goat ban as a serious problem.

If a goat is not available, “they can resort to another [kind of animal]. It’s not that much of an emergency,” he said.

However, the U.S. ban is already seriously affecting the goat industry in Canada, where the 7,700 goat farms depend on the U.S. market, and especially the traditional Muslim holiday feasts.

In the province of Manitoba, where there are about 550 goat producers, 85 percent of the goat industry depends on the U.S. market, according to the Manitoba Goat Association.

Less than three weeks before the beginning of the festival, demand for Canadian live goats usually surges. But this year, many orders could not be satisfied because of the border closure, so prices dropped significantly, which hits the goat industry in Canada hard.

Both Canadian farmers and U.S. slaughterhouses and consumers are calling for a suspension of the ban, “for this festival, at least,” Mr. Sadek said.

This would allow people to get enough animals and let prices become more competitive, he said.

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