Livestock markets have fallen eerily silent ever since Karnataka passed a law preventing cattle slaughter. The beef industry of Karnataka, valued at Rs. 500 crore and employing nearly 40 lakh families is set for an unprecedented crisis. SAGARI R RAMDAS writes about who really benefits from it.
With Karnataka passing the Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2020, in the Legislative Council on 8 February, the law is a step short of coming into force once it receives the consent of the governor. However, cases are already being registered under an identical ordinance which preceded the passage of the bill.
As forewarned, what we have witnessed in other states is rapidly unfolding in Karnataka too. Livestock markets that traded in unproductive animals and beef shops have fallen eerily silent. The beef industry of Karnataka, valued at Rs. 500 crore, and employing nearly 40 lakh families, are set to be thrown out of work. There are small hotels and restaurants which serve beef, whose owners will also be affected. At stake is the local trade of finished leather products, valued at $8.5 million in 2019-20.
Also at stake are the lives, livelihoods, and food rights of Dalit, Muslim, Adivasi, Christian people, and vast numbers of small and marginal farmers who are predominantly OBC-Bahujan, and who rear animals for dairy and draught, small livestock traders, and transporters.
To compound the situation, four years after the Supreme Court of India stayed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market Rules), 2017, they have not notified the amended draft rules issued in 2018. In 2019, the Buffalo Traders Welfare Association moved the Supreme Court to challenge the draft rules and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Care and Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Rules, 2017, also framed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960. The PCA empowers authorities to seize the cattle belonging to an owner, who is being tried under the Act, and place the animals in a gaushala, or give them for “adoption”.
Cows anchor dairying in Karnataka
Of the 90.3 lakh tonnes of milk produced in 2019-20, 75% was from cows, 23% from buffaloes, and less than 1% from goats. Cow milk production increased by 20-30% from 1986 to 1987 and buffalo milk production declined. Amongst cows, it is the milk of the crossbred Jerseys and Holstein Friesan which predominates.
In 2018-19, of the 59.1 lakh tonnes of cow milk produced, 77.6% was from crossbred cows and 22.4% from indigenous cows. The in-milk bovine population increased from 40 lakhs in 1997-98 to 49.6 lakhs in 2018-19 wherein indigenous cattle and buffaloes declined, and crossbred cows increased.
Bovine meat figures mirror this trend. Beef in India is a by-product of dairying and draught, where farmers sell their animals for slaughter, for reasons that include labour scarcity, droughts, disease, reproductive disorders, market price failures, and in the case of male cattle, the rapid mechanisation of agriculture.
The total volume of bovine meat in Karnataka, increased from 3.6 lakh tonnes in 1983-84 to 26.9 lakh tonnes in 2019-20, with 70- 77% contribution from cattle. Declines in male cattle populations continue, driven by relentless mechanisation, that side-lines the draught role of male cattle.
The Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF) procures 88% of all milk produced in the state, and is the second-largest Dairy Cooperative and procurer of milk in India, after Amul. The massive increase in milk, has been linked to successive governments providing procurement price subsidies to farmers, resulting in 60% of daily milk procured being consumed within the state, and the remaining processed into products like ghee and milk powder, sold across 17 states, and exported.
KMF’s expansion plans include enhanced milk procurement from 80 lakh to 1 crore litres per day, increasing the cows amongst farmers, entering new markets across India, enhanced value-added milk products like cheese, and export products like ghee to Singapore and the UAE. KMF is acquiring processing plants in Maharashtra and is set to enhance sales from Rs 15000 to Rs 25000 crores. The estimated All-India demand for milk and milk products by 2030 is 266.5 million metric tonnes, coupled with trade plans of dairy exports.
These targets underpin government plans and programs where financing is directed towards enhanced milk production via high-yielding milch breeds, feeding, disease prevention, and monitoring along with dairy infrastructure development funds for cooperatives and dairy and meat for the private sector.
Underpinning these volumes of milk are the high-yielding crossbred cows. Under the new post-slaughter law context, any male or female bovine that loses productivity, will no longer derive a re-sale value. Trends in other states, post the enactment of similar stringent slaughter laws, as also recent articulations in Karnataka suggest (i) a gradual shift by farmers to buffaloes as the base of production. In Maharashtra for instance the buffalo populations increased by 10% between 2012 and 2019 post amendments to its slaughter laws, (ii) a massive rise in stray cattle and buffalo population, (iii) further decline of draught animals, (iv) a rise in vigilantism and ultimately many marginal farmers foregoing bovine livelihoods.
So what is the economic rationale of these slaughter laws, that in addition to all else, threatens a State Milk Federation’s 155 billion rupees annual turnover, achieved via the work of 1.8 million milk producers (largely women), who may just gradually leave dairying, because of an absence of a resale value for their cows and buffaloes? Can cow-worship, culture, and religious fervour offset the economics? Who potentially stands to benefit and how?
For leads, turn to the High-Level Expert Group (HLEG) on Agriculture Exports appointed by the Fifteenth Finance Commission constituted by the President of India in 2017. The HLEG populated by agri-business representatives and their government cohorts, in its July 2020 report recommends measurable performance incentives for states to encourage agriculture exports as well as to promote crops for import substitution. India’s Agriculture Export Policy announced in 2018 shifts policy from residual exports after meeting domestic demand to targeted export of overseas demand.
The committee lays a framework for states to strengthen their agriculture competitiveness. This is to be put into effect via (i) a single-crop cluster demand-driven value chain and value-added exports with vertical and horizontal linkages which could cut across states in the interests of economies of scale anchored by the private sector, (ii) identifying impediments to private sector investments and (iii) suggesting performance-based incentives to states to advance the plan. Buffaloes/bovines are flagged as one of the seven “lighthouse” must-win crop-value export chains for India, setting an example to 15 others.
The bovine value chain: top export commodity, set to grow from US$3.6 to 7 billion by 2024
The value chain, in its detailing, makes no bones about it being a Bovine Value Chain, which means cattle and buffaloes (and not buffaloes alone). In their analysis, “India is currently the fourth-largest bovine exporter (1.7 million MT) and contributes 6% of the world’s demand totalling USD 50 billion. Our competitiveness is we have the largest cattle/buffalo population in the world and a significant surplus, where over 90% of production is exported. Buffaloes are not bred for meat export, but milk and slaughtered at the end. A majority of the bovine production is concentrated in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh, and is limited in other states due to the absence of abattoirs.
Whilst our current export destinations are Vietnam (49%), Malaysia (10%), Indonesia (8%), Iraq (5%), and the Philippines (3%), the export plan envisioned seeks to access the two largest global importers of Bovine meat—namely China and the United States, with trade negotiations, and ensuring OIE certified FMD-free zones, and intensify setting up export abattoirs and processing infrastructure therein.
Despite global trade peaking in 2018, India recorded its lowest beef exports because China cracked down on illegal meat supplies of Indian exports through Vietnam. India has the potential to grow our bovine exports from current volumes of 12.36 lakh to 18 LMT, and 3.6 to 7 USD billion.
Corporate Problems and Corporate Solutions
The HLEG Committee identifies critical “pain points” (the Committee’s words) and impediments down the value chain:
Buffalo farming is fragmented across small and marginal farms with 2-10 animals, that comprise 85% of the production, and they are not directly linked to exporters. Farmers market their unproductive animals, via a chain of small traders, via existing livestock markets. Farmers work with traders and not exporters, and thus it is a fragmented supply chain. There are insufficient livestock markets and an unorganized trade. There are 10 million male calves annually, starved to death or sold at an early age for slaughter. These can potentially can be ‘salvaged’ and fattened for their meat. Current restrictions on buffalo slaughter in various states challenge the true realisation of the export potential.
There is a disconnect between dairy cooperatives and the meat industry, despite beef being a by-product of the dairy industry, once an unproductive animal is sold and then slaughtered. There is a need to expand and establish abattoirs, (which are disproportionately currently located in Uttar Pradesh), in surplus buffalo population states Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Gujarat, as this would improve the margins of the value chain. There are deficiencies of the cold-chain cover, given the geographic locations of Uttar Pradesh, and limited access to ports. A 67% export duties on rawhides is currently in place, which disadvantages 3-4% in meat price versus the competition, in export markets…”
And makes recommendations to convert the “pain” to profit:
“Facilitate milk cooperatives to rear male buffaloes and sell them directly to export abattoirs, to generate an additional USD 800 million every year. The tie-up with dairy cooperatives will augment public finances to assist farmers to rear male buffaloes and should happen in the proposed FMD district free zones across 11 states. On a trial and experimental basis, the District Magistrate and the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying must play a ‘vigilant’ role.” [They do not elaborate ‘vigilance’ concerning what. Is it policing of farmers and traders to ensure they are not selling off buffalo calves?]
Target states should amend their buffalo slaughter regulations to bring them in line with the laws existing in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Connect farmers with end markets, by establishing tie-ups with state dairy cooperatives, and eliminate middlemen. State governance should facilitate and fast-track approvals/ permissions of new facilities to improve farmer incomes, and stop vigilantes from disrupting livestock transportation and supply chains.
A National Animal Disease Control Program launched in September 2019 facilitates an FMD-free country and animal traceability, as the vaccinated animals are ear-tagged with a unique identification number, and data uploaded onto the Information Network for Animal Productivity and Health (INAPH).
Sixty-seven percent of export duty on hides of buffaloes should be abolished. Mega food parks containing cold storage and processing infrastructure should be built near ports. Exporters should diversify their processed meat portfolio and brand it Indian. Market beef as organic, as animals that have been reared without hormones and antibiotics.
Agri-business Corporate Economic Logic of the Slaughter Acts backed by Farm laws:
The amended slaughter act in Karnataka coupled with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market Rules), 2017, read with provisions of the current Farm laws, could facilitate the outlined Bovine exports plan in Karnataka, to ensure economic profits to Agribusiness in the following manner.
- There are immediate disruption and destruction of a well-oiled and complex system of animal trade that exists from farmers to their final destination: be it other farmers, or slaughterhouses via multiple traders, and animal markets including those governed under the APMC act. No farmer nor small trader will be willing to risk their lives with the kind of vigilantism that gets unleashed with complete impunity under these slaughter laws. The vigilantism is already underway.
- The national and state projections of expansions, exports, and dairy growth, set the stage for burgeoning crossbred dairy animals, regardless, of whether sexed semen produces fewer males, or whether farmers shift to buffaloes. Either way, the farmers will need to sell their 5th or 6th lactation female, equivalent to a 9 and not 13-year-old buffalo.
So, where will the animals go? Karnataka has 80 gaushalas with space for 200 animals per gaushala. There are announcements of 2 new gaushalas being set up per taluka. Thus far, the gaushalas have only had to presumably shelter “cattle”. Henceforth, it will include increased cattle numbers and buffaloes. None of these existing gaushalas will be able to hold the animals that emerge from each farmer’s home (along with buffalo calves). The gaushalas which shall produce organic panchgavya, sell dung, urine, and “pure holy milk” are just a fig-leaf intended to cover, the export plan.
(iii) Here is where the new farm laws enable the corporates to implement their Bovine Export Act via direct doorstep procurement of animals from the producer, bypassing the existing APMC market yards. Corporate logistics companies can thus be involved in the direct pick-up of unproductive animals from villages, facilitated perhaps by pre-existing organised farmer platforms such as village dairy cooperatives (as recommended by the HLEG) to transport the animals directly to the “exporters” located in disease-free zones until Karnataka builds its own.
Karnataka’s immediate neighbours, Maharashtra, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh, are on the anvil of being certified as “disease-free zones”. India has submitted a request towards such recognition to the OIE. In a similar vein, buffalo calves can be reared via contract farming and directly purchased and delivered to the slaughterhouses.
Corporates engaged in this trade will be protected from vigilantes because (i) chapter V, section 14, of the so-called APMC Bypass Act and Contract Farming Act have an overriding effect over any law in force, (ii) under section 13, no suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings can be made against the central or state government, or an officer of government, or any other person. [A person under the farm laws is an individual, partnership firm, company, limited liability partnership, cooperative society, society, or any association or body.]
Finally, under section 15, no civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceeding on any matter. Yet cognizance can be taken of any issue and it can be disposed of by any authority empowered under this Act or its rules.
Sheltered by the Slaughter Act, vigilantes could be let loose and directed to attack small transporters, traders, local butchers, and farmers who dare move around with their animals to ensure that not one animal finds its way to plates as beef.
This high-level plan commissioned by the government, if carried through, will, without a doubt, take beef off the menu. It will also structurally (and completely) shift beef out of the country as a means to secure a Brahmanical vision of beef-free India in which corporate profits balloon; capitalism and the holy cow politics in a win-win situation.
Sinister designs behind slaughter bans, dairy, and beef exports will dispossess small and marginal farmers from their bovine-dependent livelihoods and consolidate Brahmanical capitalist control over our food and lives.
(Sagari Ramdas is a veterinary scientist with the Food Sovereignty Alliance, India. The views expressed are personal.)
The article was originally published in The Leaflet.