Locking horns over culture and business
Are cattle commodifiable without loss of traditional farm-life?
India has a livestock population of 500 million (20% of the world's
total), more than half of which is cattle, forming the backbone of Indian
agriculture. Mechanisation of agricultural operations has pushed cattle to
redundancy in large parts of the country. Short hybrid grain varieties and
harvester machines have reduced the availability of cattle fodder.
Alongside, meat export almost doubled between 1990 and 95, while livestock
population only increased by half that rate. Further, indigenous breeds of
cattle have been taken over by foreign breeds introduced during the white
revolution, which are treated as milch and meat machines.
From all these changes, India's cattle population is increasingly viewed
as a mere economic resource for optimal returns, a transformation that is
greatly impacting traditional farm-life. Recognizing this, the government
instituted the National Commission on Cattle in August 2001, to suggest
ways and means for the preservation and protection of the nation's cattle
But from the outset, the government's other actions have undermined the
commission's work. Within the 10th five-year plan, the government has been
constituting sub-committees to design policies on various sectors. Under
this scheme, the sub-group on Animal Husbandry -XI - Meat Sector,
constituted by the Department of Agriculture, came into being. Even as the
cattle commission was drawing up policies for cattle protection, the
policy recommendations of the 'meat-sector' were released; these are
clearly at odds with the commission's role and objectives. The document,
in which these policy recommendations are stipulated, is peppered with
phrases like "in the interest of the farmer" and "cow protection with
economic spirit". The actual recommendations, however, show no such
interest or spirit. Among the recommendations:
The policies clearly provide a thrust towards the creation of a
significant meat market supplied by industrial abbattoirs and corporate
food marketeres. The main questions that arise from this are:
Removal of all bans on meat export and all restrictions on processed meat
import and slaughter machinery.
Removal of all restrictions on slaughter of buffaloes.
Reduction in the minimum age for slaughter of bullocks.
Removal of the ban on beef exports.
The answer to that last question is evident - corporations. Twenty five
cattle-slaughtering factories can effectively replace all the existing
140,000 slaughter houses in the country. Next come the corporations that
have built their services and products around the meat-consuming market -
processors of meat into various forms of fast food, processed meat
transporters, deep freezer manufacturers, cattle feed 'enhancers', drug
manufacturers who sell 'meat growth hormones' and antibiotics for cattle
and even agri'business' banks that will give loans only for cattle
'producing'. Not to forget the fast-growing biotech industry.
Dimming prospects in the West:
An interesting phenomenon in the globalisation scene is that as the West
is waking up and rejecting many harmful technologies like the use of
certain chemical pesticides and waste incinerators, the private companies
that have invested in them are frantically looking for markets in the less
regulated, developing countries. India, with its more than one billion
people, is naturally an attractive market.
Inefficient and uneconomical choices:
The sub-group's document explains the need for India to become a livestock
economy thus: "Increase in productivity of land and productivity of
definite number of livestock is a necessity to meet the growing needs of
human population. Thus the need for increased efficiency in livestock
production and utilization is far greater today than in the past". But
nothing could be farther from the truth! Vandana Shiva says in her book,
Stolen Harvest "Europe's intensive livestock economy requires seven
times the area of Europe in other countries for the production of cattle
feed. In a complementary economy, the cattle eat the straw and
agricultural waste that humans cannot. But, in a competitive model such as
the livestock industry, grain is diverted from human consumption to the
intensive feed for livestock. It takes eight kilograms of grain to produce
one kilogram of meat."
This inefficiency - eating meat that must first be fed grain that could
instead be itself eaten directly - is well known. The Meat-subgroup's
proposal will move India away from her primarily complementary economy to
a competitive livestock economy. By growing the cattle here for
unrestricted export, India will be subsidising the meat-based industries
dominated by foreign firms. By permitting them to use the natural
resources in India to produce meat for export or even inefficient
consumption models within India, we are creating the sort of imbalance that
will divert resources away from adequate food production for our own people.
In other economic terms, too, the new policies inlcude significant
dangers. A story from Stolen Harvest is instructive. "Al-Kabeer,
one of the biggest abattoirs in Andhra Pradesh, slaughters 182,400
buffaloes every year, animals whose dung could have provided for the fuel
needs of 90,000 average Indian families of five. Kerosene imports
quadrupled in 1993 from 1988. If livestock were not slaughtered in AP,
farmyard manure would cultivate 384 hectares producing 530,000 tons of
food grain. The state of AP must now spend Rs.9.1 billion to import
nitrogen, phosphorous and potash previously provided by livestock over the
duration of their lives. The projected earnings of Rs.200 million by
Al-Kabeer is actually leading to a drain of billions of rupees in foreign
exchange. Finally, in a law-suit against Al-Kabeer, the courts ordered a
50% reduction of its capacity, in order to save the cattle wealth and the
rural economy of AP."
An especially anti-democratic move is the recommendation that
"animal husbandry Departments under State Govt. should be entrusted with
licensing of slaughterhouses as at present, local bodies who are the
owners, are also license providers". This proposal essentially asks for
the decision-making power to be taken farther away from the people and
centralised, so the hassle of manipulating 50 (or so) local bodies in
every state could be reduced to that of manipulating just one state
The cow has been a symbol of prosperity in India since ancient times and
is deeply respected. Indian agriculture is almost philosophically built on
integrating cattle into the human lifestyle. Besides helping the farmer,
the livestock are the source of many important products (which is
different from the factory mindset of man as the 'producer' with the cow
just being a machine) - ghee for medicine, dung for fertilizer, milk for
food, urine for pesticide and many others.
The Indian farmer has already been pushed to a state of despair by the
government's agricultural policies. With the promotion of short stemmed
hybrid varieties of paddy and wheat (which have deprived the cattle of
their natural feed), agrochemicals, artificial insemination of exotic
breeds, hormone injections for more milk production, the government of
India has systematically converted the 'localised, environment-friendly,
energy- and water-efficient, knowledge-driven agri'culture' into a
centralised energy- and water-inefficient, technology- and
What are the pros and cons of industrialising slaughter houses and
raising more cattle for meat?
How will these policies impact the typical Indian farmer?
Who stands to benefit by breeding cattle for meat and expanding
the meat-consumer market in India?
More information on this issue and an online petition to stop the move towards
industrialisation of slaughter is available at