On 6 Oct 2015, local people in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, set a van on fire under rumour that 100 kilos of beef meat were loaded in the vehicle. The previous week, a man was lynched in Uttar Pradesh's Dadri on September 28 following rumours of storing and consuming beef; after which another truck driver in Srinagar, Kashmir was killed for on suspicion of cow slaughtering. The Dadri case grabbed national attention, with media, politicians, and the public bringing to the issue a variety of perspectives: religious, political and concern for the violation of rights.
Violence has escalated following the ban on slaughter of bulls and bullocks under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, which was strengthened in March 2015. Possession of beef is now fined with $158 and a 5-year jail term; a penalty as costly as possessing cocaine. In Gujarat, the consequences are even more severe, with a $770 fine and a 7-year jail term. A total of 26 Indian states have already banned cow slaughter, but there is no law which bans people from consuming beef, no central law that bans the possession of beef, and no uniform law across Indian states.
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Publicity surrounding these violent episodes has made the beef ban into a national issue. Firstly, the ban raises a question for the future of 15 million people working directly and indirectly in the slaughter business. Though these people have not engaged in any violence, they are protesting the ban on grounds of livelihood loss. Estimated economic losses are pegged at $1.54 million per year, declared the Maharashtra state government. This reflects political and religious motivations taking precedent over trade.
Will the WHO’s recent report on the carcinogenic nature of processed meat add further fuel to the fire?
There could also be negative health implications. While beef is particularly resource-intensive, it remains a cheap source of protein for poor people in India: a kilo of beef costs between $3-4 while mutton sells for over $7 a kilo in most areas. The ban is likely to push up the price of other meat, according to Derek O'Brien, a member of parliament from India’s political party Trinamul Congress (TMC).
The ban is already seeing repercussions for the leather industry in Maharashtra, which holds 5% of the global market and supplies almost 2 million leather hide pieces a year. With the ban in place, sourcing prices are up by 5% already. Moreover, industries which use cow parts in food products, medicine and manufacturing and footwear, are likely to be affected.
Illegal slaughtering could see a rise since the ban – posing a challenge to traceability and quality control in the supply chain. Some cattle trade could also move to Kerala, where cow slaughter remains legal.
Are cattle becoming a stranded asset in India? Farmers keep cattle as a source of insurance, but with a 30% fodder shortage, how will they keep low-value livestock alive?
Business World (February 11 2015) Holy Cow!
The Guardian (March 23, 2015) Indian beef ban will cost jobs and harm economy, warn critics