Ban on Beef: the Relevance for India

By Ranjit K. Sahu

There has been a great hue and cry about the recent ban on cow slaughter and beef availability with various organizations raising their voices against it. While protesters have termed the move as against the right of individuals to choose the food they eat and encroachment on the personal freedom due to imposition of a cultural belief on all, it would be a time to look at the implications of this law from a socio-scientific perspective.

To begin with the cultural aspect of the law, while it is imperative that the law has been based on the belief system of hindus that killing a cow is a sin, the practice seems to be more based on the long tradition of using the cow as a means of sustenance in the agrarian community. The survival and well being of the cow was intricately linked to the prosperity of the peasants and the farming community as it was the source of nutrition for the humans and also a source of fertilizer for the land. The utilization of cow excretions as fertilizers and pesticides made the slaughter uneconomic and against logic.  Similarly in the pre modernization era where the machines were not much utilized in farming operations, the bullocks were the main source of power for farm operations. In more than one sense the cow/bullocks became a part of the farmer’s family and just like any other pet, there was an ethics involved in not slaughtering it. Thus, in the Indian sub continent the cow and its family was an integral part of the agriculture system.

  Many people  having farms outside India abstain from eating beef or any meat for this reason that continuous interaction with the animals brings them emotionally close. Many farmers have a select animal as their pet and would not part with it, the price tag on it being inconsequential. In a way the logic is an extension of the rule that you don’t eat your pet animals. Whatever the reason maybe, the consumption of beef is not widely prevalent in the Indian subcontinent including Burma and Thailand,  though meat from bullocks and water buffaloes  have been  consumed by less affluent sections of the society or in remote areas where people had less access to food.  But more often than not, these sections of the society usually depended on the carcasses from the owners. They took the onus of disposing the dead animal and process its hides. Such communities were too poor to rear cattle for meat.

One environmentally important consequence of this rule of not eating cow meat was that after the cow was dead, it was often skinned and the flesh discarded away from the human dwellings. This acted as a source of nutrition for scavengers like vultures, which helped to clean up the environment by eating carcasses of other animals and prevent spread of diseases.  Thus, this practice was more sustainable in the rural India context. The conversion of feed to beef is very low compared to chicken or pork as it takes about 6 pounds of feed concentrate to produce one pound of beef while it takes 2.5 pounds to produce I pound of chicken. Thus, beef production would result in lowered availability of food resources for people. In the case of the cattle being grazed on land and not fed, it would require additional land and thus increase the burden on land available for agriculture. Thus the economy also does not favor beef production compared to chicken.

Another argument against those people who claim that cow is like other animals and hence it should not be banned is that these critics need to look at the prevalent practices around the world. Food is one aspect of human existence which has inbuilt cultural taboos. These critics may express the similar logic and explain why pork is banned in the Middle East or why dogs and cats cannot be consumed by these advocates of beef eating, since they are animals too and are eaten in some part of the world?

There is a section that rushes to quote the Vedas as evidence of beef eating by ancient Indians. These people miss out the many other instances where the cow is worshipped and harm to it is considered as a sin. More over these people do not follow all the rituals specified by the Vedas in their daily lives. So selectively quoting the Vedas to gain mileage is obnoxious.

The more important approach is of course from a nutritionist point of view. The bane in effect is a boon for the weaker sections of the society, especially people with large families who claim that it is a source of protein and they have to resort to beef as they cannot afford even vegetables. The world is gradually realizing that consumption of red meat is a recipe for health problems and more people are refraining from its consumption. The same poor people who claim they cannot afford meat and need beef will not be able to afford the high costs of health care in future. For the affluent who love beef for taste and as luxury or as a status symbol it is another issue. They can always find places in the country or outside to eat their favorite beef products, neglecting the ill side effects of beef. After all people do smoke and drink!  Add to this the environmental consequence of producing beef. It is enormous in terms of contributing to artificially induced starvation through competition for resources which could have been used for more sustainable food production.

Whether or not the law has a political dimension to it, it is in the larger interest of the society to undertake sustainable practices in agro-forestry and animal husbandry  rather than view  the ban with a myopic view of personal gratification. For those who still like red meat the water buffaloes may be a substitute.  Lastly it is not the majority that is dictating this law but the cultural conscience of the society.

About The Author: Ranjit Sahu, was born in India and is a doctorate in biotechnology. He has published two books in poetry ( 2005: A Year of Love and Drunk ) and his poems have appeared in the website of Poetry.com. Presently, he is working on several volumes of poems with different themes.

4 Comments

  1. Thought provoking and very well written article. I completely agree with the health impact (red meat) has on human beings.

  2. Indian cows are dairy/milch cows anyways, not bred for beef. What’s the big deal in banning killing of milch cows, religion or non-religious reason?

    Very well written article, btw

  3. Just to add a bit more info. Dairy cattle in India is not bred or traditionally supposed to cater for beef needs. they are milch breeds. In the west they have separate breeds for beef and milk.

  4. I’m exremely impressed along with your writing skills and also with the layout foor your blog.
    Is thijs a paid topic or did you modify it your self? Eiither way stay up tthe nice quality writing,
    it’s rare to look a nice weblog like this one these days..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *