|The hidden cost of beef eating|
21st April, 2015
The recently introduced beef ban law in Maharashtra and Rajasthan is a long-awaited move to respect and uphold Hindu religious sentiments but it is also exemplary environmental sense. Hindi film actors who took to social media to mock Maharashtra’s beef ban wanted to be seen to be more loyal to cultural aberrations of the Bollywood Khanate than to Hindu religious and cultural sensibilities; in the process Bollywood exhibited inexcusable ignorance of the high and hidden costs of beef eating. Rishi Kapoor, son of the illustrious Raj Kapoor, born into a Hindu family and who confessed publicly to being a beef eater, is emblematic of the country’s de-culturised and increasingly Christianised and Islamised tinsel world. While Bollywood’s jarring reaction to beef ban is an unavoidable compulsion, consequent to Muslim underworld footprint in Hindi film production (want my money, love my beef), what is Girish Karnad’s excuse?
English print media of The Hindu kind hold up Karnad as one of India’s leading intellectuals in the field of performing arts and perch him slightly above the rapidly rising TM Krishna for the same honour, only by virtue of Karnad’s age and long experience in Hindu-bashing; and this high status is accorded to people like Karnad and Krishna for their explicit and articulate disapproval of what Romilla Thapar and her kind of history calls ‘brahminism’. This in essence entails speaking disapprovingly/demeaningly of caste, Sanskrit, cow worship and now beef ban.
Karnad, in typical secular vein made out beef eating to be some kind of denial of a fundamental right, and more ridiculously he called it “an attack on the diverse food culture of India”. To raise beef eating to the level of MS Subbulakshmi’s music, Odisha’s Sambalpuri or Ikkat handloom weave, and Tamil Nadu’s Karagaattam which we would term culture is to be expected of the likes of Girish Karnad; but to make his protest more pretentious Karnad gave it the dimension of subaltern sociology. Karnad called beef “poor man’s meat” and termed beef ban “an attack on the food habits of the poor and the downtrodden”, self-confessed beef eaters Mani Shankar Aiyar and Rishi Kapoor included. Karnad also questioned what he termed “government interference in food habits”.
This article is about exposing the country’s worst kept secret – the unacceptable, high and hidden cost that the country is paying for the dubious distinction of being the world’s largest exporter of beef. Because this article is about listing the terrible truth of the hidden costs of beef production and beef eating, I will simply present the truth as so many facts one by one as bullet points. Before that we need to take a quick look at two seemingly unrelated but closely linked dimensions – beef as poor man’s meat and the glib theory that beef ban is government interference in eating habits. In the last ten years alone, the UN, America, Britain, Australia, Kenya and Austria among other countries have conducted detailed research on the carbon and water footprints of the food we eat; these studies have come to near total unanimous conclusion: beef eating is a land, water and energy intensive food habit which is causing irreversible destruction of individual country’s and global ecosystem. These studies have also concluded that people around the world are unwilling to give up beef because it is still affordable; what has been left unsaid so far is that governments around the world heavily subsidise the beef industry.
Conclusion: Beef eating, like smoking must be made prohibitively expensive and must carry mandatory and statutory warning on packages of the hidden costs of this bad food habit.
In India beef is cheap because successive governments from the times of Nehru have subsidised the meat industry, particularly the beef industry as one of the core tenets of politics of minority-ism. India’s scheduled castes continue to eat beef not because there is any religious sanctity attached to eating beef or that they have no alternative but only because it has been made artificially cheap by all governments. If the green revolution destroyed more than forty-thousand of our native rice varieties besides destroying the topsoil of all arable land through extensive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the white revolution caused the pink revolution which even as we speak is destroying forests, agricultural land, depleting freshwater, and making impossible energy demands on an already power-starved country. And to make matters worse the meat industry is inextricably linked to the leather and hide industry, another water intensive and land&water polluting industry. Beef is not eaten by Karnad’s poor and downtrodden because it has some deep religious sanctity or because the “poor and downtrodden” think it is an article of self-identity but only because it has been made artificially cheap by our government.
Contrary to secular allegation that banning beef is government interference in food habits, it is my contention that it is government subsidies to the beef industry which constitutes government interference at source. And I am not the first to say this.
“The big story is just how dramatically impactful beef is compared to all the others,” said Prof Gidon Eshel, at Bard College in New York State and who led the research on beef’s impact. He said cutting subsidies for meat production would be the least controversial way to reduce its consumption.
“I would strongly hope that governments stay out of people’s diet, but at the same time there are many government policies that favour the current diet in which animals feature too prominently,” he said. “Remove the artificial support given to the livestock industry and rising prices will do the rest. In that way you are having less government intervention in people’s diet and not more.”
Global impact of beef eating
1. According to United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report of 2010, Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production agricultural production accounts for a staggering 70% of the global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use, and 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions
2. Agriculture, in global trade and commerce jargon includes animal products and “agricultural production” in this report, as in all other studies does not mean cereals and grains but meat
3. Emerging economies of Asia have become exporters of agricultural products and therefore the humongous negative environmental impact of food consumption in other countries is borne by the country that produces them. Briefly, if India is supplying the countries of the world with beef, India and Indians are bearing the terrible environmental cost of producing and exporting beef
4. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005 says in just the last 50 years alone humans have radically altered the global ecosystem more extensively and rapidly at any other time previously in human history and “this has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth”. Meat eating, especially beef eating has irreversibly destroyed ecosystems
5. Modern agriculture is resource intensive particularly with respect to use of energy, land and water. Currently about half of the world’s land is used for agriculture and 70% of total water use (FAOSTAT resource database).
6. Large proportions of the world’s crops are fed to animals and this is expected to increase to 40–50% of global cereal production in 2050 by which year the world will have to feed an extra 2 billion more people
7. Beef requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions. When compared to staples like potatoes, wheat, and rice, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme, requiring 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases
8. One such study in the U.K to assess the carbon and water imprint of beef reported that both in America and in Britain there was much inefficient use of agricultural land for destructive livestock farming systems where good cropland was being used to grow animal feeds instead of human food
9. University of Oxford scientists and found that meat-rich diets - defined as more than 100g per day - resulted in 7.2kg of carbon dioxide emissions. In contrast, both vegetarian and fish-eating diets caused about 3.8kg of CO2 per day, while vegan diets produced only 2.9kg. The research analysed the food eaten by 30,000 meat eaters, 16,000 vegetarians, 8,000 fish eaters and 2,000 vegans.
10. Researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria produced a comprehensive assessment of the livestock industry around the world. According to this study, each year the livestock sector globally produces 59 million tons of cattle and buffalo meat
11. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, states beef production requires 28 times more land, 11 times more irrigation water, emits 5 times more Green House Gas, and 6 times more Nr or Reactive Nitrogen into the air than other livestock categories
India’s dubious distinction in Animal Products, Meat and Beef export
1. India’s is already the world’s top exporter of beef and is also all set to become the world’s top exporter of meat
2. India was ranked eighth in the world in meat production in 2011-12 with 5.5 million tonnes of meat valued at Rs. 83,600 crores
3. India's exports of Animal Products were worth Rs. 20778.39 crore in 2012-13, which include major products like Buffalo Meat (Rs. 17412.89 crore), Sheep/ Goat Meat (Rs. 425.66 crore), Poultry Products (Rs. 494.93 crore), Dairy Products (Rs. 1412.10 crore), Animal Casing (Rs. 18.37 crore), Processed Meat (Rs. 9.37 crore), Other Meat (Rs. 2.33 crore), and Natural Honey (Rs. 356.32 crore)
4. Because the Indian government chooses to ignore the terrible impact of beef production and beef export on the environment and ecosystem of the country and continues to subsidise the beef industry, there is a sharp and sudden spurt in the global market for Indian beef
5. Buffalo meat constitutes 86-90% of Indias total meat export
6. Beef export registered a whopping 27% growth in the financial year 2012-13 when the UPA was in power but instead of halting and reversing beef production and beef export, Modi sarkar has continued with the same meat production and export policy as the previous government and beef export grew by 15% in 2014
7. The main markets for Indian buffalo meat and other animal products are Vietnam Social Republic, Malaysia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Egypt Arab Republic and UAE.
8. The total value of India’s buffalo meat exports for the year 2010-11 was USD 1.9 billion which touched USD 2.3 billion during 2012-13. Projections for the current fiscal are much higher. Exports have nearly tripled since 2009, rising to 1.65 millon tonnes in 2012, according to USDA figures.
9. Buffalo meat has emerged as India’s second highest agri-export commodity after Basmati rice, according to data released by Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) under the Ministry of Commerce.
10. Indian buffalo meat exports touched an all time high of Rs 13,917 crore in value terms in April-October 2013, representing an increase of nearly 58% over same period last year. In terms of quantity too, there has been 23% rise in buffalo meat exports from India.
11. India has about 58 per cent of the world’s population of buffaloes. Two schemes in operation in the country, namely, Salvaging and Rearing Male Buffalo Calves (SRMBC), and the Utilization of Fallen Animals scheme (UFA) have created new incentives to slaughter previously under-utilized buffalos.
12. These schemes promote the rearing of buffalo bull calves for meat production and assist in achieving the targeted growth rate of 10% for the meat sector.
13. The share of bovine meat in the total meat production in India is about 60% while beef or bovine meat constitutes 86% of all meat exported to other countries
14. Meat exports from India commenced in 1969
15. Among Indian states, Uttar Pradesh (UP) has emerged as the biggest exporter of buffalo meat, followed by Punjab and Maharashtra
16. Interestingly, buffalo meat export to Vietnam has seen a surprising growth in the recent period. Between April-October 2013, buffalo meat exports to Vietnam rose by 229% in value terms, and more than 100% in quantity terms over the same period last year. Vietnam accounts for close to 40% buffalo meat exports from India.
17. There has been a huge demand for Indian buffalo meat in China, which is currently routed through Vietnam. China does not allow free import of Indian buffalo meat. Last year, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding ( MoU) for direct export of buffalo meat, but the pact is yet to be implemented. Once ratified, the deal is likely to give a great fillip to buffalo meat exports from India, according to exporters.
18. As per the latest meat exports figures from the Ministry of Food Processing. The data shows that India exported 1.89 million tonnes of beef in 2012-2013, which is a 50 per cent increase over five years ago
19. In the last one year, APEDA has approved 170 integrated abattoirs, slaughterhouses and meat processing plants across the country, apart from announcing subsidies worth `15 crore to the modernizing of abattoirs.
20. Uttar Pradesh is the biggest producer of meat, especially beef, while Kerala is the biggest consumer
21. According to estimates of Central Statistical Office, the value of output from the country’s livestock sector at current prices was Rs 4,59,051 crore in 2011-12, which is about 24.8% of the total value of output from agricultural and allied sector at current price. The value of output from the meat group in 2011-12 was Rs. 83.641 crore.
22. India is endowed with the largest livestock population in the world. It accounts for about 58 per cent of the world buffalo population and 14.7 per cent of the cattle population. There are about 71.6 million sheep, 140.5 million goats and about 11.1 million pigs in the country. India’s vast resource of livestock and poultry plays a vital role in improving the socio-economic conditions of the rural masses.
23. One of the major initiatives the government has launched in this financial year for sustainable development of the livestock sector is National Livestock Mission (NLM). An important component of NLM is a sub-mission to increase the availability of quality feed and fodder for the animals.
I will conclude by making a few observations. All facts, numbers and statistics have been cited from sources indicated below. Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to make an official visit to China and if indeed as feared one of the trade agreements which will be signed with China will make it possible for India to export beef directly to China then we may see a further spurt in beef production and beef export. And if this entails increasing the availability of quality feed and fodder for animals this can only mean one, two or three of the following depressing scenarios: transforming more forests into agricultural land; transforming agricultural land into pastureland or using our rich and fertile agriculture land to grow animal food instead of human food.
Can India afford any more and any longer to decimate its buffalo population and permanently destroy our ecosystem just to keep the rest of the world supplied with beef and to keep India’s Qureshis and other Muslim slaughter house owners on the right side of the vote bank?