New Delhi, May 26: The Centre has banned the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets, stunning the meat industry that said 90 per cent of supply would be affected and leaving some holdout states like Bengal to hope state laws would override the new rules.
A notification issued by the Union environment ministry on May 23 prohibits the sale or purchase of cattle in livestock markets for "slaughter purpose" with the word "cattle" covering bulls, bullocks, cows, buffaloes, steers, heifers, calves and camels.
The order essentially means the supply of the meat of these animals will now largely hinge on direct transactions between farmers and registered abattoirs at the farm gate. Meat industry executives say such transactions at present do not cross 10 per cent of the total buffalo meat output.
The environment ministry has described the rules as part of efforts to curb cruelty to animals but has triggered fears that the ban will strengthen cow vigilantism, which has claimed at least 10 lives in five states over the past year.
Dietary habits had become a controversial issue soon after the Narendra Modi government, which celebrates its third anniversary today came to power. Large sections of minority communities depend on bovine meat, mostly buffalo meat, for nutrition. Cow slaughter now is allowed only in a few states such as Bengal, Kerala and the Northeast.
A senior Bengal minister today said that regulation of cattle markets was a state subject and chief minister Mamata Banerjee would protect the right to food with all her might. The new rules have also fuelled fears that the farmers will be saddled with old cattle that they cannot afford to take care of.
The new rules - known as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulations of Livestock Markets) Rules 2017 - require sellers to provide a signed declaration that the cattle "has not been brought to market for sale for slaughter". Buyers of cattle shall "not sell the animal for the purpose of slaughter".
The notification specifies the creation of an animal market committee that should ensure that the declaration has the name and address of the owner of the cattle and a copy of a photo identity proof. Details that identify the cattle should also be mentioned.
The panel should retain every declaration for six months and produce it if an inspector demands it during that period.
The market committee is also required to take an undertaking from the buyer that the animals have been bought for agricultural purposes and not for slaughter. The committee is expected to ensure that the buyer is an agriculturist by asking to see the relevant revenue document.
The buyer must also declare that the animal would not be sold for six months from the date of purchase.
The new rules ban animal markets within 25km of any state border and 50km of any international border.
Veterinary inspectors in animal markets will be expected to provide "emergency euthanasia" to animals that have severe, irreparable injuries or are terminally ill. They must also ensure that carcasses, including those of naturally dead animals, are incinerated and not sold or flayed for leather. This applies only to deaths taking place in the animal markets.
An animal welfare specialist who had helped draft the rules said they were aimed at ensuring that animals for slaughter were sourced directly from farms and that only healthy animals were traded for agricultural purposes, under veterinarians' supervision.
"The rules seek to promote the concept of farm-to-fork -- they require slaughterhouse operators who wish to procure animals to engage directly with the farmers," said Nuhegalli Jayasimha, director of the Humane Society International, India, a non-government organisation involved in animal welfare. #The notification follows a directive from the Supreme Court in response to a petition by Gauri Mulekhi, a trustee with the People for Animals, seeking regulations for livestock markets where, animal welfare activists say, animals and birds are transported and treated in "cruel" and "deplorable" conditions.
Meat industry executives and other analysts fear that the new rules will choke the existing channels through which raw meat is procured.
"We are staring at rules that could spell the end of an entire industry that feeds tens of thousands of workers and is essential for the cattle economics for buffalo breeders," said Vishal Johri, a merchant banker who advises exporters.
Fauzan Alavi, director of Allana Group, the country's largest exporter of processed food products, said: "The new rules --- on which we were not consulted --- have come as a surprise and a shock for the industry. It is not possible for individual farmers to sell their spent animals for slaughter (directly to us) without going to the nearest animal market."
The May 23 gazette notification says that the draft was published on January 16 and "objections and suggestions received from the public have been considered by the central government". Alavi added: "It is surprising that the environment ministry has come out with the notification even though trade in livestock falls in the domain of the animal husbandry department."#
S.P. Sabharwal, secretary-general of the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association, said: "This is a major change that will hit farmers more than meat exporters, who will also be hit. Currently, we buy buffaloes that are unable to produce milk and are too old to breed through middlemen who bid for these animals at cattle markets. These sell for about Rs 20,000-25,000 a buffalo. If farmers sell at the farm gate, he will sell at whatever is paid to him, and it will certainly be lower than the rate discovered after bidding at a market."
Alavi said the export industry would have to down its shutters for want of raw material. "The new rules will promote vigilantism and eventually hurt the dairy industry. How will you explain to a mob whether the animals being transported are meant for dairy farms or slaughterhouses?" he asked.
India is the global leader in buffalo meat exports and feeds markets in Vietnam, Malaysia, Egypt, Indonesia and Saudia Arabia. A slide in sales, analysts said, could lead to meat shortages and price rise in these markets, with the replacement of India as a source of meat supplies by rivals who include Pakistan.