Differences have surfaced even within the NDA government over the plan to ban the sale of cattle in animal markets for slaughter. The Agricultural and Processed Food Products and Export Development Authority (Apeda), a body attached to the commerce ministry, has just sent a missive to the environment ministry, saying India’s buffalo meat exports — worth $4 billion annually — could be hit hard if the new rules are implemented.The Madras High Court had on May 31 put an interim stay on the relevant environment ministry notification, which ruffled many feathers in political circles. The Supreme Court is set to hear a plea challenging the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, issued by the environment ministry on June 15. While the regulations are ostensibly meant to protect animals from cruelty and not to prohibit the trade in cattle for slaughter, Apeda stated in the letter that all 75 integrated slaughterhouses and several standalone ones for buffalo meat exports had been registered and approved by it. These plants, it said, follow all sanitary and phyto-sanitary requirements of the World Organisation for Animal Health.
India has built a reputation as reliable supplier of buffalo meat over the last five years or so through a series of steps taken for ensuring animal health and hygiene. Sources said concerted efforts to eliminate diseases such as rinderpest and foot-and-mouth among the buffalo population have borne fruit, resulting in a sharp increase in exports of meat products from India in the last many years. India accounts for more than a fifth of global buffalo meat trade at present. Thanks to the Uttar Pradesh government’s crackdown on illegal abattoirs in the state in March, the country’s buffalo meat shipments declined 10% in April.
Trade sources said that it would be difficult to comply with the environment ministry’s notification as a chunk of animals for slaughter are traded in animal markets. However, the environment ministry had argued, “The livestock markets are intended to become hubs for animal trade (for agriculture)… Through this process, animal for slaughter will have to be bought from the farmers at the farms.”
Amid growing protests from many states against the environment ministry’s notification, the new environment minister Harsh Vardhan recently said the government is open to changes in the notification and was not viewing it as a “prestige issue”. He had said that the intention behind the notification was not to harm any particular group, influence food habits or affect the slaughter business. The export-oriented buffalo meat industry had been anticipating an upswing in shipments because the world’s biggest beef exporter, Brazil, is at present facing a huge crisis after many importers put a freeze on purchases from the South American country alleging contamination. Meanwhile, a leading Indian buffalo exporter said the demand from the international market is “strong” at this time as Ramzan season. As per data from Apeda, in 2016-17, although the value of buffalo meat exports shrank marginally to Rs 26,303 crore from Rs 26, 684 crore reported in FY16, the volume rose to 1.33 million tonnes (mt) from 1.31 mt during period.