Beef ban debate has wrong end of the steak

The debate should be about how to make slaughter cleaner, quicker, and as painless as possible.

 |  Metrosocial  |  3-minute read |   12-04-2015
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There are more red herrings than cows in our raging beef ban debate.

The BJP finds banning beef more prescient than other issues. The Congress accuses the BJP of majoritarianism after itself having banned it in state after state. The media misinterprets the Maharashtra advocate general’s remark and spreads alarm about an impending ban on fish, chicken and mutton, without bothering to check that it is constitutionally impossible. Article 48, part of our Directive Principles, merely advises the Centre and states to make laws keeping in mind the protection of cows and calves. No other animal is mentioned.

Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM, the self-proclaimed messiah of Indian Muslims, says cows should be spared but not bulls as it affects thousands of livelihoods. He has, unsurprisingly, thrown in a proposal to ban pork and liquor too.

You can’t entirely shrug off Owaisi’s logic. If the decision is taken based on one community’s religious sentiment, other communities have the right to be heard too.

In that sense, Article 48 — although it attempts a veneer of economic reasoning by talking about milch and drought cattle — is flawed in a secular country.

India’s deep and central Hindu culture was never in danger because of beef-eating, which long preceded Muslim invasions or British colonialism, and would never be. Several Hindu communities still eat beef. Spiritual aversion to meat has a lot more to do with Buddhism and Jainism.

The tornado of talk on social media on the beef ban missed the point entirely. It is not about which animal to kill for food (surely a progressive people must have the right to choose what they eat).
 The debate should be about how to make slaughter cleaner, quicker, and as painless as possible.

Killing is messy business. But one could argue that even the most steadfastly vegan among us would not survive without killing, cutting, maiming or plucking living things.

And while many parts of the world have long moved to more hygienic and humane abattoirs, we still yank chicken out of packed coops, slit their throat and throw them into blood-caked, fly-infested drums by the roadside.

We have open cow, buffalo, pig and even camel slaughter — a profoundly disturbing sight and a source of many communal flash-points.

It is bewildering that the world’s second largest exporter of beef and an ever-growing consumer of meat does not talk about clean abattoirs, modern herding and slaughter techniques and an overall more hygienic process. It is instead caught in petty communal oneupmanship.

We should aspire to setting up world-class slaughterhouses. From Horsens city, for instance, the Danish Crown abattoir sends out to the world approximately a lakh pigs a week to cater to the growing global demand for meat.

The pigs arrive at comfortable pens and scientifically herded in small groups — pioneering animal scientist Temple Grandin suggests several stress-reducing measures like taking them in a single file. They are rendered unconscious by carbon dioxide before being killed to minimise the pain of the process.

Most modern slaughterhouses use gassing or stunning the animal before killing it. Although a strong Islamic lobby is still against halal after stunning, there is a growing global consensus that it is not un-Islamic to kill the unconscious-but-alive animal by halal.

The Indian government needs to move to modern abattoirs and clean storehouses. It needs to start a debate involving community leaders on new-age methods.

Local meat sellers can be organised into cooperatives which adhere to clean selling conditions and use scientific slaughterhouses instead of a dirty, market-corner job.

And as the world’s biggest messenger of non-violence, India must join the frontline of technological research on future’s food, especially that of producing meat in the laboratory.

These are the real meaty issues. What’s being raged about online is mostly offal.


Abhijit Majumder Abhijit Majumder @abhijitmajumder

Journalist. Managing editor, Mail Today.

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