Iranians simmering over 'chicken crisis'

Posted Jul 22, 2012 by Larry Clifton
Iran, a country rich in oil with no need for nuclear power, has nevertheless sacrificed Iranian delicacies like chicken to build nuclear plants.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ponders.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ponders.
Marcello Casal Jr/ABr
After Iran's national Police Chief Esmail Ahmadi recently felt it necessary to address the nation’s "chicken crisis," public emotion has flown the coup, ultimately leading to the banning of televised images of people eating chicken, according to a Rueters report.
The soaring price for the culinary common that Iranians relish cooked with saffron, plums or pomegranates has become a simmering public debate, as international nuclear sanctions take hold of the Iranian economy.
Ahmadi urged television stations to avoid broadcasting images of people eating chicken, saying such pictures could fire up social tensions, with perhaps unforeseen consequences. "Certain people witnessing this class gap between the rich and the poor might grab a knife and think they will get their share from the wealthy," Mehr news agency quoted him as saying.
Apparently, one way of identifying “the wealthy” in Iran is too spot them enjoying some chicken nuggets prepared with saffron. As Iran's economy withers under erratic government management and international sanctions imposed over the country's disputed nuclear program, food and fuel prices have the public clucking increasingly louder over the past 18 months. At around 65,000 rials, or over $5 at the official exchange rate, a small chicken is now nearly three times the price it was a year ago, an extravagant meal in a country where gross national income per capita was about $4,520 in 2009, or $377 per month, according to the most recent estimate by the World Bank.
Price increases reflect the cost of importing chicken feed with Iran's weakened currency. On the black market, the rial is more than 40 percent lower against the U.S. dollar than it was at the start of this year.
Many Iranians still express their frustration with acerbic humor, however the public’s mood in country is growing darker. Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani, who lives in France, mocked Ahmadi Moghaddam's warning with a cartoon of a young man watching a pornographic film. His father tries to cover up only the image of a roast chicken in the background of the film, saying: "How many times have I told you not to watch films with chicken in them?"
Photographer Arash Ashoorinia pictured delectable chicken dishes on his website. "It's possible that publishing these kinds of photos will be banned. Of course I had many more beautiful photos, but I wouldn't want to act against national security!" he wrote underneath.
Meanwhile, Iran's social networks are crowing. "There are two classes of people: below the chicken line and above the chicken line," quipped one Twitter posting from a Shiraz resident. Instead of traditional gold coins, soon-to-be-married Iranian women would request dowries of 200 tons of chicken, tweeted an Iranian woman.
Officials, fearing a grass roots uprising, continue to assure chicken-craving Iranians that the bird will be available and at fair prices. The government has imposed fines for those charged with “profiteering.” And the government has made promises that government-subsidized chicken for the holy month of Ramadan will be on hand in an attempt to reassure Iranians that tons of healthy stock will soon be available at market.
Pictures of people hoping to buy government-subsidized chicken have been widely carried in state-influenced Iranian media over the last several weeks to imply that the government has not chickened out on addressing the problem.
Iran’s government leaders say the country has endured more than three decades of economic sanctions and can withstand plenty more, however some wonder if these officials still have chickens in their pots.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has described the sanctions as a blessing that will wean the country off foreign goods and dependence on oil income, however only the former seems to be the case.
But Iran's chicken industry continues to rely mainly on imports, particularly the soya beans and corn fed to broiler chickens. A veteran chicken producer in Iran, who asked not to be named, recently told Reuters he blamed the drastic price increases on government mismanagement and foreign sanctions. "Around half the chicken farms have stopped production because it has become too expensive to buy the imported raw materials," he said, citing the sharp increases in the cost of feed and imported vaccines.
Chicken prices are now a raging debate in national politics. Some anti-Ahmadinejad members of parliament are publicly denouncing the executive branch for being unprepared to deal with the chicken crisis.
Ahmadinejad has faced increasing criticism over his economic record since introducing reforms in 2010 that withdrew generous subsidies to nearly all Iranians in favor of cash handouts; the reforms have contributed to inflation.
"There are queues for chicken every day," said Ayhan, a university professor living in Tehran. "It reminds me of 1981."