Slaughter House Ban: Gainers and Losers

Archana Prasad

THE BJP’s massive majority in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections led to the anointment of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister. And in his very first pronouncement, the ‘Yogi’ ordered the ban of slaughter houses in the state. The argument made by the newly elected government was that these slaughter houses were not following the National Green Tribunal guidelines and hence they should be closed. Close on the heels of this pronouncement was the amendment in the Gujarat government’s law which stipulated that a person who killed a cow would get life imprisonment. Following him, the Chhattisgarh chief minister, Raman Singh, bragged that there had been no cow slaughter in his state for the last fifteen years and if anyone was found slaughtering a cow, they should be hanged. This aggressive competitive Hindutva is, however, not a matter of just cultural chauvinism and jingoistic Hindu nationalism. Rather, it is a cover-up for a business strategy that favours large corporate beef and buffalo meat exporters, thereby revealing the corporate basis of the slaughter ban.

It is well known that India is one of the largest beef and buffalo meat exporters in the world. The main reason for this is that the cost of production of one unit of meat is much lower in India than it is in any other part of the world. For example in September 2016, the average export unit value for boneless frozen buffalo was Rs 192.13/kg well below comparable product from Brazil (Rs 254.05/kg), Australia (297.29/kg) and the US (350.36/kg). This ability to price frozen buffalo meat and beef at such a low price is a result of the combination of the economies of scale, the cheap availability of labour and raw materials. As one study of the value chains within beef and buffalo meat production shows that there are two separate value chains for the domestic market and for export. The value chain for domestic market largely depends on small scale beef and buffalo meat producers who operate through municipal slaughter houses and backyard butcher yards. The export value chain is determined through linkages with highly modernised slaughter houses – in today’s discourse; these are the slaughter houses who meet the standards prescribed by the ‘National Green Tribunal’.

In the domestic market, the farmer who sells the buffalo/cow once the animal becomes unproductive in terms of the production of milk is at the tail end of the value chain. Most studies show that the farmer gets 70 percent of the final retail price of buffalo and beef meat as the main supplier of the raw material. The trader gets 19 percent of the meat that he usually sells at Rs 115 per kilogram (ie, about Rs 22/kg) and the retail selling the meat gets 11 percent of the total value. Though the cost of production and the prices have several regional variations, this proportion remains almost the same in all cases. For example if we see the case of Uttar Pradesh, a domestic breed of buffalo yields about 130 kg of meat per animal. The retail price is about Rs 130 per kg. Hence the total income is in the range of Rs 16,900. Out of this the farmer gets about Rs 8000 to 10,000 (little less than 60 percent) after rearing the buffalo for five years. The trader incurs a cost of Rs, 200 per buffalo including slaughtering fees of Rs 18-35 per animal in the municipal slaughter house. He then sells the meat to the retailer at about 20 percent profit who adds about Rs 20 per kg.  In his chain, the person receiving the lowest return is a butcher, who is an extremely low paid wage earner, and more often than not, the person is from the Muslim community. The rest of the managers and staff are largely from the non-Muslim communities but are also lowly paid.

In contrast, the political economy of buffalo meat exporting slaughter houses is quite different from the domestic value chain and has high returns. The breeds used by the exporters are specified by the international market and are high yielding. The farmer gets about 16,000 to 23,000 per buffalo depending on the weight. At an average, a modernised exporting slaughter house buys a buffalo for 17,000 or 55 percent of the total value of the produce. The capacity of these slaughter houses is about 700 animals a day and each animal yields at an average of 180 kg per animal. The total value of the produce yielded per animal is about Rs 30,600 at the rate of Rs 170 per kilogram. At the capacity of 700 animals per day, modernised and mechanised slaughter houses produce 1.26 lakh kg of meat per day with a value of approximately Rs 2.1 crores or a monthly value of Rs 64.26 crore. The labour cost of the butchers constitutes 4.4 percent of the cost of production of buffalo meat as a whole.

In the context of these thumb rules, if we look at the production of buffalo meat in Uttar Pradesh, the state is in the eye of the storm, than estimates show that the total number of buffaloes slaughtered in 2013-14 was 45,64,070 and the yield per year was 123.39 kg per animal. This makes the total meat production at 56.3 million tonnes. Taking the APEDA data into account, there are 38 registered modern meat exporters in UP with a capacity of the production of about 11.9 million tonnes of meat annually. Hence many meat exporters probably access their meat from wholesale traders or municipal slaughter houses.

Seen in this context the slaughter house ban is designed to spare the modernised slaughter houses and target the municipal and backyard butcher yards. In this situation, the largest impact will be on the farmer who is selling their ‘non-productive’ cattle for an extra-income sine they are the main beneficiaries of small scale and non-modernised slaughterhouses. Hence the measure is decidedly anti-farmer in its orientation. Secondly, it is estimated that about 25 lakh people are employed in slaughter houses and that their livelihoods would be affected. Perhaps the biggest impact of the ban will be on the lowly paid butchers most of whom belong to the Muslim minority community. Thirdly, this drive is also aimed at inducing the modernisation of abattoirs which the government wants to do through the public-private partnership (PPP) model. This means that it is in fact going to induce corporate buffalo meat export houses to invest and become stakeholders in municipal and small scale slaughter houses, thereby destroying the independent existence of small scale producers. Hence, the unemployed butchers will become cheap skilled labour and bring down the labour cost of the large scale buffalo meat producers. Since modernisation itself requires Rs 10-15 crores in terms of the capital cost, it is unlikely that any small butcher will be in a situation to carry out this task. The PPP scheme proposed by the government for the modernisation of abattoirs is to be seen in this light.

Thus, we see that there is a definite class dimension to the slaughter house ban. The yogi government has used the ‘ideological’ card to favour large-scale buffalo meat supporters who are largely non-Muslim owners with high capacity to invest. By doing this, CM Yogi is showing that he is here not only on an anti-minority agenda, but is also on an aggressive corporate agenda where the small producers will not only lose their identity as ‘producers’, but their business’s will be gobbled up by large-scale buffalo meat export houses. Further, these corporate players will also expand their influence in the domestic market which was earlier being controlled by petty producers and traders.

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