Indian buffalo meat producers are waiting to see whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party will follow through on a campaign pledge to shut abattoirs in Uttar Pradesh after winning the state’s election this month.
Buffalo meat exports may drop to less than half current levels if a ban is put in place as Uttar Pradesh accounts for about 50 percent to 60 percent of India’s exports, said Sunil Sud, a partner at Al Noor Exports. The biggest markets are Vietnam, Malaysia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, according to the government.
Uttar Pradesh’s priority is to close illegal slaughter houses and put a blanket ban on all mechanized abattoirs, the Press Trust of India reported on Wednesday, citing chief secretary Rahul Bhatnagar. New Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is running a poll on his website asking whether the state should have tougher laws on slaughter. So far, 86 percent of respondents say ‘yes.’ India is the world’s second-biggest beef exporter, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, however that is buffalo meat or carabeef.
“Since Uttar Pradesh is a big milk-producing state, a large number of buffaloes are culled as unproductive and hence useless to farmers,” Sud said. “If India falters in buffalo meat exports, the biggest gain would be to Brazil.”
Rahul Bhatnagar, chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, didn’t answer a phone call seeking comment on the possible ban.
In a country of almost 1 billion Hindus who revere cows, India’s expanding meat industry has at times been a flash point. In 2015, a Muslim man was dragged from his home at night and beaten to death with bricks and rods in front of his children in Uttar Pradesh after rumors he had slaughtered a cow. Maharashtra, the second-most populous state and home to the nation’s biggest city, Mumbai, banned the possession and sale of beef the same year before relaxing some restrictions in 2016.
India’s meat industry employs about 22 million people, including more than 15 million people in Uttar Pradesh, according to Sirajuddin Qureshi, managing director of Hind Agro Industries Ltd. Buffalo meat exports dropped 2.4 percent in the first 10 months of the 2016-17 year, according to government data.
“Banning it will lead to huge unemployment,” Qureshi said. “We were given licenses by the government of India. We are doing legal business.”
The country is set to be the world’s sixth-biggest beef consumer this year, with domestic demand surging more than 30 percent in the past decade, according to USDA data. Exports in the period have more than doubled, with growth in shipments to Vietnam, China and Africa. Indonesia last year allowed imports of buffalo meat from India, spurring concern in Australia’s beef industry.
“It will be really unfortunate if the Uttar Pradesh government puts a ban on legal licensed abattoirs,” Al Noor’s Sud said. “It has taken us almost 20 years to reach world standard in quality by spending on in-house facilities and laboratories.”