The recently drafted Hindu Charter had one of these as a demand:

Complete Ban on export of all types of meat/beef, and enactment of the Agricultural Cattle Preservation Act

This short note attempts to clarify doubts and make the case against exporting beef.

Acknowledgement

This article and, indeed, the entire demand in Hindu Charter would not have been possible without the indefatigable efforts of Prof J K Bajaj at Centre for Policy Studies.

Prof Bajaj’s seminal work can be found here – https://www.cpsindia.org/dl/Articles/Note%20on%20Buffalo%20Meat.pdf  and as a popular article in IndiaFacts

He has also spoken most eloquently on this subject at the Conference to Define the Charter

Background

Agriculture and Processed Foods Export Development Authority (APEDA) of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, an authority was created through the APEDA Act of 1985 to promote export of 14 groups of commodities listed in the First Schedule of the Act. Of these 14, APEDA seems to have prioritized the export of Meat and Meat Products over all others. Nearly 62% of meat produced in this country and nearly 100% of meat exports are bovine in nature.

While APEDA extends handholding, guidance, direction and approval to the slaughterhouses for producing certified Halal buffalo meat, another arm of the Government of India, the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI), offers a substantial subsidy for setting up and modernization of abattoirs. The subsidy covers 50 percent of the cost of machinery and civil works in general areas and 75 percent of the cost in difficult areas including the Northeast, Sikkim, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and some other States.

Indian exports of buffalo meat are estimated to have reached 20 lakh tons of Carcass Weigh Equivalent (CWE) per year. Total domestic production is estimated to be around 40 lakh tons. This requires the slaughter of around 3 crore buffaloes annually. Nearly a quarter of our currently estimated buffalo population is thus slaughtered every year.

This is very high level of butchering for a herd that is the mainstay of the milk economy, at least in North India. On the average, nearly 1 lakh buffaloes are slaughtered in India every day to sustain the fast growing buffalo meat industry.

Abattoirs

Half of the buffalo meat is produced in mechanical slaughterhouses that are approved by APEDA and almost all of this production is exported. Thus, all the beef exported out of the country is from these mechanical slaughterhouses.

State APEDA Approved Abattoirs
Uttar Pradesh 43
Maharashtra 15
Punjab 5
Telengana 5
Haryana 3
Nagaland 1
Bihar 4
Andhra Pradesh 3
Kerala 1

As many as 13 of the slaughterhouses spread across the country are in the name of a single person and his several companies. There are many others owning more than one slaughterhouse.

Thus, this is an entire export industry that benefits a small clique of mechanized slaughterhouse owners.

Impact on herd balance

Buffaloes constituted about 20 percent of our bovine herd— cows and buffaloes together—in 1951. That ratio increased to about a quarter by 1977 and has sharply risen to more than a third now as a consequence of the official privileging of buffaloes over cows under the erroneous assumption that only the latter are sacrosanct and former may be killed.

Between 1951 and 2012, the number of cows (including bullocks) in India has increased from 15.5 to about 20 crores. The number of buffaloes, on the other hand, has multiplied from 4.3 crore to nearly 11 crores. Increase in the buffalo herd has been particularly high since 1992. This is also the period when slaughter of buffaloes has been established as an export-oriented industry through official patronage. The number of cows has in fact declined after 1992.

Of the 11 crore buffaloes counted in 2012, 9.2 crore are females and only 1.6 crore males. Composition of the male herd is further distorted by the highly skewed ratio of calves to adults.

Of 1.6 crore male buffaloes, 1.1 crore are young calves of age less than 2 years. The ratio indicates that large numbers of male calves are either allowed to die young or are slaughtered soon after they cross the age of 2 years.

As many as 55 percent of the buffalo male calves born are left to die. In addition, 45 percent of the available male buffalo stock is slaughtered annually.

Encouraging buffalo-slaughter thus leads to the destruction of both buffaloes and cows, of the former through slaughter and of the latter through neglect.

This is a trend of far-reaching consequence. Our herds are being managed in a manner that will lead to long term depletion. The economic consequences are far too high for a poor agricultural country like India to afford.

Impact on land usage

As we can see, none of the other countries have such a low proportion of land devoted to pasturage. Given the high population and low pasturage, the only option is for factory farming methods to raise meat animals.

The other major exporters also have a much higher forest cover that will neutralize the damage to land that intensive factory farming causes.

Impact on water utilization

Each tonne of beef exported requires at the minimum 3.4 lakh liters of water through the lifetime of the animal. India has 1123 cubic km3 of available freshwater, with a shortfall of 327 cubic km.

Furthermore, India’s per capita fresh water availability has been steadily on the decline, from 2309 cubic m. in 1991 to 1902 cubic m in 2001. It is projected to decline to 1401 cubic m in 2025.

We might only contrast it with the availability of fresh water in the United States, with it’s vast underground aquifers and large availability of lake and river water.

Exporting beef implies exporting away scarce fresh water, which India simply cannot afford as a nation.

Impact on grain utilization

Studies by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research indicate that 38% of millet production in India will be purposed for cattle feed. This contrasts with 1991, when almost none of the millet production was diverted to cattle feed.

This is quite in keeping with the rising beef production in a country with such low pasturage.

Re-purposing this millet production towards human consumption would make use of marginal lands for human consumption, thus freeing up land used for rice and wheat production to high-value cash crops. Also, if acreage used for rice and wheat is reduced, it reduces the pressure on fresh water.

Antibiotic usage

Another consequence of heavy incidence of factory farming is the heavy usage of antibiotics. This results in strains of bacteria with antibiotic resistance. Contrary to Western literature blaming the antibiotic resistance to Indian doctors’ propensity to prescribe antibiotics.

A report by the non-profit Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics & policy said that over 130,000 tonnes of antibiotics are used globally, and the figure is projected to cross 200,000 tonnes by 2030. In a decreasing order, China, United States, Brazil, India and Spain have the highest rate for antibiotic usage.

The hazards of transporting bovine animals for slaughter

Uttar Pradesh contributes nearly half of the buffalo-meat produced in India. But, buffalo herd of Uttar Pradesh forms only 28 percent of the total buffaloes in India. To achieve its high level of production, Uttar Pradesh has to either kill a much larger proportion of its buffalo stock or obtain buffaloes from outside for killing.

Kerala is another state, besides UP, that slaughters many more buffaloes than the size of its buffalo herd allows. According to the data of the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying & Fisheries (DAHD), the State slaughtered 7.8 lakh buffaloes in 2013-14, while its total buffalo population counted in the Livestock Census of 2012 is only about 1 lakh.

To kill so many buffaloes in a year, Kerala would need to get buffaloes from far off parts of the country, because even the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu has a buffalo herd of only 7.8 lakh, equal to the number that is slaughtered in Kerala annually.

Large-scale and often long distance movement of buffaloes for slaughter going on in the country despite several States having laws against such movement. This massive movement of cows and buffaloes across the country for killing is leading to serious law and order problems everywhere.

Alternatives

What will happen to bull calves and unproductive she-buffalos?

This can be remedied over time by means of the following

  • Reducing overall herd count by reducing the frequency with which females are impregnated. In modern farming, this is, more often than not, done by artificial insemination. This can be easily controlled so that natural attrition will lead to stable herd populations within a decade.
  • Ease the transition by setting up gau shalas that are partially funded by the Government. This will take the burden of maintaining unproductive head of cattle or buffalos from the individual farmer. The cost of maintaining an unproductive animal through it’s lifetime is estimated at Rs 10,000.

Economic aspects of maintaining unproductive bovine headcount

  • Male animals, when not used for draught purposes, need to be in healthy proportions for a sustainable herd. Otherwise, a small number of stud bulls leads to inbred populations with a high susceptibility to infectious and congenital disease.
  • In March 2018, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved the proposal of Department of Fertilizers to continue Urea Subsidy Scheme upto 2019-20 at a total estimated cost of Rs. 1,64,935 crore and for disbursement of fertilizer subsidy.
  • 5% of bovine urine is urea. The 3 crore buffalos that are slaughtered annually can together produce 27 lakh tonnes of urea. This amounts to a subsidy saving of Rs 4349 crores on urea subsidy.
  • The dung of these 3 crore animals will amount to 36 crore tonnes of dung annually. This is another Rs 17,500 crore worth savings on fertilizer subsidy on all 3 – N, P and K fertilizers.
  • Cow dung has a N:P:K ration of 3:2:1, which is closer to the 4:2:1 ratio recommended for healthy soil and sustainable agriculture.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we state that the beef export is an activity that gives only a marginal economic advantage to India as a country and does so at a great cost to our ecology and long term sustainability of our animal husbandry industry.

We have not delved into the subjective ethics of raising cattle for large-scale, industrialized slaughter.

However, as a nation, we must ponder if a country whose Constitution has such an article as Article 48, is really justified in such enterprises where large scale suffering of sentient beings is intrinsic to the enterprise.

Some Questions

Is this a ban on beef consumption?

This is a demand to ban export of beef and allied meat products, and not an attempt to regulate what Indians eat.

Does this condone cattle vigilantism? Will this embolden gau rakshaks?

Given the inability of India’s law enforcement agencies to prevent cattle rustling and to control vigilante gau rakshaks, this needed legislative change could drastically reduce the incentive for cattle rustling.

What about farmers that are unable to sustain unproductive head of cattle?

It is true that the demand for draught animals is reducing, however, cattle products, especially those of grass-fed cattle have high value in organic farming as fertilizer and pesticide. Also, leather from naturally deceased cattle carries the same value as slaughtered cattle.

Will this not result in a shortfall of foreign exchange?

The annual export of beef varies between Rs 26,000 Crore to Rs 29,000 Crore per year. However, as we see, the distortions in cattle-buffalo ratios, environmental degradation and the unsustainable rate of slaughter create intangible economic damage that far outweighs the export revenue.

Will this not affect employment of people?

Direct employment in these 74 abattoirs can be less than 50,000 individuals, while the number of 5 crore that was quoted in mainstream media reports also includes all those illegal slaughterhouses that will not be affected by this ban on exports.

Alternative employment arrangement including possible reskilling can be explored to help the employees transition.

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