Cattle rule puts lives at stake

Cattle rule puts lives at stake

Cattle rule puts lives at stake
The severe repercussions of the notification banning cattle trade are already being felt.

Kondamadugaa, a large weekly cattle market near Hyderabad reported fall in sales from 500 cattle per week to 300, post the notification – Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017. Animal markets are crucial nodes in the production cycles of bovines, facilitating the smooth exchange of animals between farmers and traders. Section 22 of the rules, titled “Restrictions on the sale of cattle”, violently invades into this space. A farmer has to submit to the Animal Market Committee (AMC) a written declaration stating the cattle has not been brought to the market for sale for slaughter. The buyer has to undertake that the animal is being bought for agricultural purposes only.

The AMC will monitor the sale to ensure it is not resold within six months of purchase via ID records of the buyer, seller and the animal. The rules define “cattle” as “cow, calf, bull, bullock, buffalo, heifer, steer and camel.” The rules equate “the sale and purchase of animals for slaughter in an animal market” as an act of cruelty, thereby exceeding the purview of the original law.

The central government, by criminalising the trade of animal for slaughter on the grounds of cruelty, within the physical space of animal markets, has evoked a virtual trade blockade on animals for slaughter, disrupting the existing market channels for animals to reach slaughterhouses.

This is a de-facto slaughter ban and consequently a ban on beef consumption, despite statements of denial to this effect by ministers and animal rights activists, who jointly shaped these rules. At stake are the small and marginal farmers’ right to life and livelihoods, whose dairy and bullock-based economies stand to be destroyed. Farmers rear bovines for milk, manure and work. Non-productive animals, those with reduced milk, reproduction or work capacity, are sold.

Sales are often seasonal, peaking in the agricultural lean months or when there is a scarcity of fodder, water or during droughts. The economic value of an unproductive bovine exists because of all post-farmer, post-slaughter downstream use value of the bovine economy: (a) beef as part of our food cultures and a cheap source of protein (b) the thriving carabeef export market valued at Rs 26,685.41 crore (c) bovine skin - the basis of India’s leather industry valued at Rs 37,000 crore, generating 95% of India’s footwear needs, and (d) the offals used in the pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries. It is animal traders buying “unproductive bovines” who facilitate this opportunity.

Dairy India is in denial of this reality. The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) has outlined in its website  the declining economic value of a dairy animal, which by the seventh lactation is valued at 30% of an animal in its first lactation.

The youngest animals of the herd replace the oldest animal. It assumes all animals other than those in their first, second or third lactations are sold to maintain constant herd size from which the farmer derives 40% of his/her income. Who buys the unproductive bovines? Certainly not another farmer, who is not a fool to invest in a white elephant, be it a holy cow or buffalo.

And here is where slaughter and the markets for beef complement dairying. In the Indian context, farmers don’t rear cattle/ buffalo for beef, they rear them as dairy or work animals, and then when they become non-productive, continue to have a value due to beef and leather. Beef is a by-product of dairying and draught (work animals), which is a unique aspect of India’s livestock economy.

Farmers sell animals in their village or via the nearest animal market to any potential buyer and stand to lose from the new rules as it impedes upon the rights of farmers to negotiate with multiple buyers in animal markets. Forced to sell from their homes, they will now be exposed to potential monopolies of the value chain or faced with no buyers at all.

Murdering dairy economy

This “market trade blockade” is bound to severely cripple both dairying as well as beef and leather industries. With the EU, Australia, New Zealand and the US waiting to dump subsidised milk powder into India, it is indeed a foolish policy decision to literally kill dairying in the name of animal welfare.
At stake are, at a conservative estimate, 70 million livelihoods anchoring dairying, three million in the leather industry and 2.5 million in beef.

New laws, growing surveillance systems on animal movement and slaughter across the country have already translated into economic losses – a 7% and 10% decline in leather and beef exports, respectively, between 2013-14 and 2016-17 and increased imports of skin and hides into India to meet domestic shortfalls.

Within this constrained system of production and restrictions on sales, resulting in shrinking buyers, farmers will simply stop rearing bovines and turn out the non-productive to fend for themselves. This has happened in Maharashtra post the bullock slaughter ban. It will increase India’s “stray” cattle (and now buffalo) populations.

States with strict cattle slaughter and transportation bans have the highest populations of  “strays”, and the highest incidence of “smuggling”, precisely because these bans proscribe the possibilities of legal sales and purchase for slaughter, resulting in “smuggling” or illegal trade of animals across borders.

Legalising transportation for slaughter and/or slaughter will immediately halt smuggling and enable safe transportation of animals over shorter distances. With a massive number of livelihoods and a vital part our of our economy at stake, this highly contentious interpretation of cruelty needs to be interrogated and challenged.

(The writer, a veterinary scientist, is with the Food Sovereignty Alliance-India)

Pinarayi’s letter to Modi:

Meat is the primary source of protein for millions of poor and ordinary people in this country, particularly Dalits.

Such restrictions being imposed on the eve of Ramzan would certainly appear to certain communities as a direct attack on them.

People of all faiths consume meat, not just the minorities.

Once the prohibition comes into effect, it will not only deprive them of adequate nutrition but also
prevent the availability of raw material for the leather industry.

The absence of efforts to take the states into confidence on such a drastic move with far reaching
consequences is detrimental to our democracy. It amounts to intrusion into the rights of the states in
federal structure.