By Anoushka Dalmia
The recently imposed ban on the selling of cattle for slaughter has crippled the nation’s otherwise flourishing beef and leather industry. It is also being seen a “fascist” move by the Modi government as it may further divide people based on communal lines. However, this ruling is being promoted as an environment-friendly action that will regulate cattle trading and prevent animal cruelty.
What are the environmental consequences?
The United Nations Environment Program labelled beef as a ‘climate harmful meat’. India is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the world’s largest exporter of beef. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to livestock, and beef and cow milk production account for roughly two-thirds of carbon emissions in the livestock sector.
The emissions have two primary causes: feed production and enteric fermentation. The former is the fertilisation of feed crops and deposition of manure on pastures that generates heavy amounts of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, while the latter is a digestive process for ruminant animals that releases methane (CH4). These are greenhouse gases which hugely contribute to global warming and climate change. To put the severity of these gases into perspective, N2O has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 265-298 times that of CO2.
A charged political atmosphere
The cow is a sacred animal for the Hindus and it has been worshipped by them for centuries. However, it has become the centre of political controversies multiple times because of measures like the beef ban. The nationwide ban has already resulted in backlash, most notably from the states of Karnataka and West Bengal.
Since butchers and related tradesmen are largely Muslims and Dalits, this action is being viewed as discriminatory. The beef ban has been denounced for being an action which inflicts socio-economic harm on minorities in order to appease the sentiments of the larger Hindu population. While the ostensible intention of the ban may be to avoid cruelty, violent acts of lynching by the infamous ‘gaurakshaks’ against Muslims have the potential to spark a riot.
The effectiveness of the ban on prevention of unregulated animal trade is also debatable. A nationwide survey revealed that 71% of Indians above the age of 15 are non-vegetarians. Even if only half of that number consumed beef, the demand for the product would still be high. It would inevitably give rise to a black market and encourage illegal trading. As for the animals, farmers who sold older cows to slaughterhouses will no longer have any incentive to maintain the expenses of an unproductive animal.
Conflict of interests
The Paris Agreement was a triumph for the international community, as governments of both developed and developing nations pledged to limit their emissions to safer levels. Harsh regulations may be needed to limit the effects of this industry on the environment as agreed upon during the Paris Agreement. However, this discriminatory regulation fosters religious radicalism that may lead to a divided nation.
On one hand, the situation is grim and the incentives of the government are dismal. The nationwide beef ban has robbed butchers, slaughterhouse owners, cattle farmers, middlemen, and tannery workers of the only livelihood that sustained them. On the other hand, a ban on the livestock industry may be imperative to uphold the pledge taken during the Paris Agreement, especially in the face of studies which claim that giving up beef may reduce carbon footprint more than cars.
Looking for a middle ground
If a task as magnanimous as controlling global warming has to be achieved in a country of 1.3 billion people, new decisions need to be advertised and implemented in a moderate manner. It should be such that the benefits, and more importantly, the detriments are shared by everyone.
Instead of discriminatory laws that enrage the population as they appear to value the lives of animals over families, investment in better alternatives is the key to accomplishing environmental health goals. A prime example of this is the dwarf cow, the smallest bovine in the world. The Kerala state government is funding research on the benefits of using the indigenous animal for large-scale dairy and meat production. This is because of the animal’s unusual ability to withstand heat and produce about one-tenth of the methane produced by a normal-sized cow.
Making concrete plans for the future
The future of the meat industry all over the world is uncertain. The consequences of climate change are being felt worldwide. However, it is the responsibility of the government to encourage solutions that will uphold our duties towards the environment without compromising on the lifestyles and food choices of specific religious groups. This requires a detailed plan of action that will address the problem in all spheres. Otherwise, this move may well become a fruitless exercise resulting in no tangible benefits for the Indian society as a whole.
Featured image credits: Pixabay
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