Friday 26 May 2017 News Updated at 03:05 AM IST
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Beef export: unethical slaughter for money - Deccan Herald
Beef export: unethical slaughter for money
Ritwick Dutta,
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The massive growth of the meat export industry in India in the last few years has ushered in what is infamously called the 'Pink Revolution.' This 'revolution' has today become the centre of public debate and political discourse, principally because of the crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of India.

Viewing the ongoing controversy over slaughterhouses only from the lens of the right of the people to decide what they want to eat or of religious intolerance, overlooks many fundamental questions.

Should a country like India promote the export of meat? Have we really considered the environmental, social and ethical issues while focussing on the export earning and jobs provided by slaughterhouses? At a time when even rivers, lakes and glaciers have been considered as legal and living entities by a high court, should animals continue to be treated as inanimate sources of protein and revenue?

The fact is that we must make a distinction between meat for domestic consumption and meat for export. The irony is, today India is the world's largest exporter of beef; its total export is valued at Rs 26,000 crore and is slated to grow further.

India's legal beef export consists essentially of buffalo meat called carabeef. As of now, beef has surpassed Basmati rice as Indias top agricultural export. Indias buffaloes are being largely slaughtered not to add protein or satisfy the taste buds of its citizens, but of the people of 65 countries where it is exported.

The country has been eager to tap the Chinese meat market; the world's largest. China had, till recently, not allowed the direct import of India's beef due to the prevalence of the 'foot and mouth disease' here. It was only after Prime Minister Narendra Modis visit to China in 2015, that the Chinese government decided to send inspectors to visit Indias abattoir to ascertain their conditions. In January, 2017, China finally allowed the import of Indian beef.

India sees buffalo meat export as a means to reduce its massive trade deficit with China. Thus, while the ruling BJP actively advocates against the 'Pink Revolution,' the Union government under the leadership of the same party has succeeded in opening a direct export channel for beef with China.

Legal or illegal, slaughterhouses and the promotion of meat industry for export have serious environmental and social consequences. From an environmental standpoint, large-scale export of meat itself is a precious drain on the country's natural resources.

Meat industry is highly water-intensive: for producing just a kilo of meat, roughly 15,000 litres of water is required (UN World Water Development report, 2012). Thus, when India exports meat, it is not just exporting meat, but also large quantities of scarce water. Thus, a 'virtual trade' in water takes place. Lax regulations and low wages make Indian meat far cheaper than other competing countries.

Cruel industry

The export of meat raises an important question: do we have the moral and ethical right to kill in the most brutal and cruel manner to meet our foreign exchange requirement? Buffaloes are reared, transported and slaughtered in the most unthinkable manner. In a slaughter house, every effort is made to ensure that the animal suffers unimaginable pain. In the whole process of meat export, a live animal with emotions is reduced to an inanimate lifeless resource.

Just because an animal is not the 'holy cow,' does it legitimise it being subjected to excruciating pain and torture? It would not be amiss to say that the torture we inflict on meek and helpless animals in slaughterhouses is akin to the sufferings of people in the concentration camps under the Nazi regime.

As a country's living standards improve, activities that are hazardous and promote pollution are increasingly resisted by the local people; a classic example of 'Not in My Backyard' syndrome. As quality of life and liveability index become important yardsticks in people's lives, slaughterhouses, with their high polluting nature, have no place in the urban and rural landscape.

A few years ago, the Sup-reme Court prohibited the export of iron ore from Goa and Karnataka. The export earnings from mining did not, according to the court, reflect the true social and environmental impact. India's meat export is no different. It is an extractive industry given the nature of natural resources it uses.

Slaughter houses, despite their high pollution load, are not subject to any Environmental Impact Assessment. The impact on the ecology as well as the people are never ascertained scientifically. No cost benefit analysis is done. No public hearing takes place. The public has no say in deciding whether slaughter houses should be allowed or not.

We need an impartial debate on whether India should continue in its path as a global giant in meat export. India has many skills it can use to its optimal capacity to earn a place as a global economic giant. It will be sad indeed if the world's largest democracy is one day known globally for its skill in raising and killing animals for consumption.

(The writer is an environmental lawyer)