How illegal meat laundering makes India the largest exporter of beef
A large portion of the meat which gets exported comes not from slaughterhouses complying by Indian rules and regulations, but through meat laundering.
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One of the biggest rackets in the country is of illegal “cold storages” or “meat processing” factories. In 2019, I went to Belagavi, Karnataka to answer a frantic call for help by residents who had uncovered several cold storages that were allegedly killing thousands of buffaloes illegally.
I took the local politicians and went to these factories. Getting in was a problem as the owners had fled and locked the factories. However, I entered and we found ourselves knee-deep in blood with thousands of flies. The place was like the worst hell one can imagine.
Filthy meat factories
The factory wasn’t exactly a secret. The local police commissioner first denied its existence and then defended the police’s actions. The cows were smuggled in from Goa and then slaughtered in a field. The dead animals were brought into the factory and cut and then the filthy meat packaged and exported. My team and I unearthed a similar racket in Bihar: A locked ‘cold storage’ next to a police chowki. The owner was an exporter from Delhi. He had been exporting the meat for years with impunity. He fled the country.
The meat industry has three distinct components. First, there are slaughterhouses where animals are killed and skinned. Second, there are meat shops where flesh is sold in retail. Third, there are meat processing factories. After animals have been killed and skinned in slaughterhouses, they need to be hacked into pieces, deboned, packaged and refrigerated for export. This work is done in meat processing factories. Cold storages are part of the factories and usually just rooms with filthy ice slabs in sawdust-covered with blood. The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and Rules provide for separate licensing for each of these three activities.
Delhi has only one licensed slaughterhouse which has its meat processing unit at Ghazipur. But numerous meat processing factories have sprung up at Lawrence Road Industrial Area that process carcasses for export. Nobody had bothered to find out where the animals were being slaughtered, till the Delhi State Slaughterhouse Monitoring Committee, set up an inspection. The Delhi government has recently shut down two meat processing units in North Delhi owing to gross illegalities in their operation. The violations were initially reported to the MCD in June 2019 after a probe. The animal husbandry department refused to do anything. The order for cancellation of their licenses could only be done after the chief secretary of the Delhi Government intervened in January 2020.
For years, the ownership of the factories exchanged hands. None of these persons had a real claim in the business, nor did they even work there. This was done to confuse every licencing body so that, if ever a violation was established, the owners who live in Uttar Pradesh could shift the blame to some fictitious person, replace him with some other name and carry on this illegal business.
A large portion of the meat which gets exported comes not from slaughterhouses complying by Indian rules and regulations, but through meat laundering. This is a new system of slaughtering animals illegally at unlicenced locations, packaging the meat for export, paying a small fine to the local body for flouting the rules and exporting the meat as “regularised”. This is happening across the country and is the main reason why India is becoming the largest exporter of beef in the world.
The new system of slaughtering animals illegally at unlicensed locations, packaging the meat for export, paying a small fine to the local body for flouting the rules and exporting the meat as “regularised” is the reason why India is becoming the largest exporter of beef in the world. (Representational image: Reuters)
Slaughter and packaging of meat are governed by several regulatory regimes — Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, Factories Licencing laws of the states, Water, Air and Environment Protection Acts implemented by the State Pollution Control Boards and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 among several others. For exports, additional registration with Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) is required. Most meat exporters registered with APEDA bypass the Food Safety and pollution authorities either by bribing or taking advantage of the complete lethargy in these departments. Animals are bought illegally by butchers posing as farmers and buying truckloads of buffaloes from ‘farmers markets’ set up to help farmers exchange their animals.
These are then trucked to illegal slaughterhouses and killed in filthy conditions. The inspection of most meat processing factories reveals that they don’t even meet basic infrastructure requirements such as adequate flooring, ceiling, tiling, lighting and ventilation needed to operate a meat factory hygienically. Factory labourers were employed without proper employment records and were paid very little. Food safety laws had been violated at every stage.
The Food Safety Department is required to regulate food processing businesses but not one case had been booked against the factory owners of the meat processing units in Delhi.
It is important for the health of ordinary Indians that these cartels of meat traders, as big as the heroin/ cocaine/smack and oxytocin mafias, are broken up. Export authorities must step in to stop meat laundering. There are State Slaughterhouse Monitoring Committees appointed by the Supreme Court. None of them work but the apex court must take monthly reports. The State has a duty to ensure that the slaughter of animals is conducted only in places duly licenced by the Food Safety Department, State Pollution Control Board and has a NOC from the local body. Moreover, it should meet the conditions mandated in the Slaughterhouse Rules 2001 promulgated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)