Egypt: Nat’l Nutrition Institute promotes benefits of eating chicken feet

Amid the country’s deepening economic crisis, the Egyptian Ministry of Health’s National Nutrition Institute sparked controversy in Egypt by promoting the benefits of eating chicken feet.

The crippling economic crisis in Egypt has resulted in a massive rise of food prices and meat of all kinds, exceeding the worst-case forecasts. Local media have started to encourage citizens to change their eating habits, despite their simplicity, to save as much as possible for daily and monthly expenses.

These calls have now reached the point of promoting the eating of chicken feet.

The dollar shortage crisis has caused an accumulation of goods in Egyptian ports, such as fodder for livestock and poultry, resulting in calls to save the poultry industry. 

Egypt has achieved self-sufficiency in the poultry industry; its volume exceeds tens of billions of pounds and is considered a cheap source of protein.

Coinciding with the 50 per cent rise in poultry prices over the past few months, there have been widespread calls to buy chicken feet on the pretext that they contain a high percentage of protein.

The controversial campaign began when the National Nutrition Institute of the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population started to explain the benefits of eating chicken feet, as food alternatives rich in protein and frugal economically, given the high prices of white and red meat.

In a post published on its official social media pages, the National Nutrition Institute promoted chicken feet, saying that the feet are classified among the inexpensive sources that are rich in protein and contain calories at a limited rate.

After removing the skin that covers it, the chicken foot provides 106 calories, while the chicken thigh without skin contains 176 calories.

The government institute continued its promotion for eating chicken feet, saying: “Chicken feet contain protein, vitamins, and minerals necessary for skin tissue repair and muscle growth. However, they are rich in collagen, which is essential for skin cell regeneration, delaying signs of ageing, and keeping hair and nails healthy.”

Commenting on the NNI Facebook post, Mona Seif, sister of activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, tweeted saying:

“No country does this, it is not normal, it is not humane, and it is not possible to reach the level we have reached. The National Nutrition Institute and Al-Shorouk newspaper promote the nutritional benefit of the feet of chickens, instead of going to see how this catastrophe has turned into part of the meal of millions of families amid the economic crisis and impoverishment policies!!”

The official call for Egyptians to eat chicken feet has provoked widespread anger and criticism on social media activists with many blaming the government for the high food prices and declining purchasing power of local people.

In mid-October, videos spread on social media of poultry breeders in Egypt culling chicks because there is not enough food for them.

In the videos, captioned, “execution of the chicks,” workers pour the animals from crates and into sacks which are then sealed.

It has been reported that there is a more than 50 per cent shortage of feed for poultry farms and that companies stopped supplying farms because they do not have any stock.

Roughly 1.5 million tonnes of corn and 500,000 tonnes of soybeans which are used to make chicken feed are stranded in the ports.

Vice-President of the Egyptian Poultry Producers Association Mohamed El-Shafei said in a widely shared, televised interview: “Unfortunately these scenes are real, because there is no feed to feed them.”

He added that corn and soybeans are not available because they are stuck in ports waiting to be released and asked that they be released urgently so that the prices would come down.

Mohamed also said that it would cost $340 million a month to release the feed.

Commentators asked if there was another solution, for example handing the chicks out to people in poorer parts of the country, rather than killing them off.

Social media users called on the government to intervene and save the poultry industry, which is in crisis.

Analysts say that the animal feed can’t get out of the ports because there is a lack of dollars inside the country.

Egypt imports around 75 per cent of feed and only produces 25 per cent.

There is a foreign exchange shortage crisis in Egypt, coupled with escalating external debt. After import bills had jumped up, authorities imposed restrictions on imports from abroad and there is currently a severe shortage of wood, furniture, toys, vehicle spare parts and electrical appliances in Egypt.

At the beginning of October Egypt, which is the world’s largest wheat importer, had not released around 700,000 tonnes of wheat from customs causing roughly 80 per cent of mills producing commercially sold bread and pasta to fold.

Added to this, in September, Egypt’s state-run Daily New Egypt reported that the Russia-Ukraine crisis had increased the production costs in the poultry industry by 30-40 per cent.

Around 30 per cent of corn and soy comes from Russia and Ukraine, where supply has seriously been affected by the war.

This has been compounded by the fact that the animal feed industry was badly affected by the coronavirus crisis as the global pandemic challenged supply chains.

In Egypt, two thirds of the population live below the poverty line and thousands have struggled to survive as the cost of food and basic commodities soar.