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Iranians turn vegetarian - by force

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Iranians turn vegetarian - by force


It is one thing to choose not to eat meat, but quite another to be forced into vegetarianism. This trend seems to be the latest effect of international sanctions against Iran’s nuclear programme that is taking its toll on a population that is far removed from the controversy.

Many Iranians complain about the extortionate price of meat and chicken, which has risen dramatically in the past few months. However many of them are very familiar with a level of inflation that seems too wild to tame.

A retired teacher from a small town says he has not bought any meat produce for the past three months. “I used to pay 92,000 rials (4 euros) per kilo of chicken and it’s now 140,000 per kilo (6 euros). The same is true for red meat. We’ve turned to aubergine, the chicken of the poor,” he jokes. He requested not to be named.

To put these figures into perspective, it is worth mentioning that the income of retired teachers ranges from 240 to 360 euros per month.

I was in Tehran in January and witnessed the Iranian rial collapse against western currencies to about half of its value. It happened shortly after a new round of sanctions that restricted Iran’s central bank.

In a meeting with a Finance Ministry official at the time, I asked if, in his opinion, the currency collapse was an obvious example of how sanctions were biting. He categorically denied my suggestion, but failed to offer any alternative reason for the currency’s freefall. However, he did point out that Iran has “circumvented all sorts of sanctions for over 30 years” and that he did not think that those imposed as a result of the nuclear programme would be different.

The bullish rhetoric from the West hasn’t changed but more wide-ranging sanctions have come into force from the beginning of July. European Union countries will no longer buy Iran’s oil, a commodity that accounts for 80 percent of the Persian Gulf country’s export revenues. Iran’s oil exports have already fallen by 40 percent this year, according to the International Energy Agency.

New sanctions will cut around 1 million barrels of Iran’s production, which stood at 3.3 million barrels a day in May, according to IEA. In 2011, the EU accounted for approximately 23 per cent of Iran’s oil exports, or at least 585,000 barrels per day. The 1 million barrel drop translates to a 6 billion euro quarterly loss of revenue.

Another headache for Iranian families, the price of cooking oil has risen by half. Iranian grocery stores are now selling 2 litre bottles for around 2.50 euros. It’s a further example of how the buying power of a typical Iranian household has been crushed. The annual inflation rate stood at 22.2 percent on May 21, according to the central bank. The general perception though is that inflation is higher and the bank is sugarcoating the problem.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a statement after the new sanctions came to effect, emphasising that everyday goods such as food and medicines would be excluded from the measures to ensure that the Iranian people aren’t adversely affected. Hague said the Iranian leadership had a choice: “It can continue to obfuscate and avoid the critical issues, incurring tough sanctions and increasing international isolation,” he said. “Or it can begin to cooperate seriously… and seize the opportunity to secure a more prosperous and peaceful future for the Iranian people.”

When it comes to the plight of the Iranian population, a daily struggle in an economy crippled by sanctions is as normal as breathing air. Many question whether the crippling cost of living could be a serious consideration for those international powers responsible for sanctions on Iran, when they discuss future options.

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