No beef for you: India bans the slaughter of cattle

Image: The Indian government has cited animal welfare reasons for banning the slaughter of cattle and buffalo, a claim rebutted by many critics. “Sacred Cow” by Guy-Claude Portmann is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One of the world’s largest exporters of beef has banned the slaughter of cattle, with the government citing animal welfare reasons for the change in policy.

The Indian government made the announcement in May 2017, including a complete ban on the trade of cattle and buffalo for slaughter.

Critics of the ban are claiming that India’s Hindu Nationalist Government is actually motivated by religious reasons. The cow is revered symbol for the nation’s 744 million Hindus.

The ban presents immediate and significant crisis for the country’s meat processing and leather value chains, worth an estimated $14 billion dollars a year for the Indian economy. In 2016, India was the second largest exporter of cattle, with Brazil taking the top spot.

Impact Downunder

News of the ban presents a potential opportunity for Australian exporters who have seen increasing competition from Indian buffalo exports to Indonesia.

“What we’ve seen in the last six to 10 months is turnoff from feedlots and slaughter numbers down 40 to 50 per cent, since the introduction of Indian buffalo,” said Stuart Kemp – CEO of the Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association.

But with little information available from the Indian government, Mr Kemp recommends a cautious approach for the Australian industry.

“More demand for Australian product is always a good thing, but I wouldn’t be high-fiving myself just yet, there is a lot of water to go under the bridge,” he said.

Jakarta-based industry consultant Ross Ainsworth believes the ban on the slaughter of buffalo could soon be reversed.

“The cattle trade is very tiny in India because it has always been a restricted situation but the buffalo trade has risen to be the world’s largest meat trade. I would be very surprised if what appears to be a ban on buffalo is actually real when all the detail of the ban rolls out,” he said.

“It would cause the biggest disruption [to the world meat trade] since the Second World War, so I can’t see it happening.”

High-End Promises?

Global live cattle trade is becoming increasingly competitive, with countries as far away as Spain now supplying Indonesia. Bakso Balls – traditional meatballs and the most common source of meat protein for Indonesians – are being made from cheap sources of meat, including Indian buffalo.

The use of cheaper meats has forced Australian cattle to be sold to the smaller, high-end portion of the market. Although in it’s infancy, Java-based Robi Agustiar says this portion of the market does have potential for Australia.

“The industry needs to educate the consumer that if they want a cheap price, then buy the buffalo meat, but if you want great quality [beef], from a traceability system and a delicate taste, you can buy Australian meat” he said.

Sources: ABC, ABC, ABC, Census India, Aljazeera

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