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Meat from half a million New Zealand sheep ritually slaughtered during this year's Moslem pilgrimage will be distributed to poor Moslems in 24 countries, a senior official said.

The $37 million project was started in 1983 to make use of the meat that was otherwise left to rot in the desert, Ahmed Mohammed Ali, a banker who oversees the Sacrificial Meat Utilization Program, said Thursday.The slaughter, which marks the climax of the monthlong pilgrimage to Islam's holiest sites at Mecca and Medina, commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son for God.

New Zealand officials said nearly 10,000 sheep recently died in a poorly ventilated ship carrying about 80,000 of the animals to Saudi Arabia. Jim Sutton, New Zealand's agriculture minister, called for an investigation.