Bird of gold

Data shows that Indians are consuming more meat. But unlike the US and China, Indian meat consumption does not seriously impact global food supply.

Indi Samarajiva June 03, 2011 12:53:00 IST
Bird of gold

It's a myth that Indians are vegetarian. There are a lot of vegetarians in India, but a lot of them eat some form of meat, usually chicken or fish. There are taboos on cow and pig, not meat in general. Chicken, for example, is booming.

B.V. Rao started Venky's with five hundred birds and seven acres of land. Less than forty years later, his sons paid 23 million to buy an English Premier League football club - the Blackburn Rovers. In a country where beef is taboo, chicken is king.As the current Venky's MD, B.Venkatesh Rao told Feedinfo, "poultry meat is generally favored and accepted by the majority of the religions of India."

Bird of goldPer capita chicken consumption more than doubled from 2001 to 2010 (fapri.org). That US organization estimated growth of about 8% per year. Rao says it's growing much faster - 18-20%. The numbers are tiny on a global scale (consumption per capita was 2.26kg in 2010), but the growth is not.

Fast Food

One reflection of that growth is the rise of fast food outlets. According to Reuters, sector growth is estimated at 25-30%. They report that McDonald's has 211 restaurants in India serving about 250,000 people a day. KFC has about 107. Even Venky's has started a ready-to-eat chain, Venky's Exprs.

Global Implications

It's important to remember that this growth is from a very small base. Fast-food outlets may be opening, but Indians are not consuming on a western level. If India and China were both consuming at western levels, that would have serious impacts on global food supply. Thankfully, India seems to be self-moderating.

According to 2007 FAO data, Indians consume around 3.3kg of meat per capita, per year. An American consumes that amount in about 10 days (122.8kg per capita). An average Chinese citizen would take less than a month (53.5 kg per capita).

It is also important to note that too much meat production can be very bad. Like anything, it should be done in moderation. Feeding animals can take away grain from humans and even cause political instability. It can also have deleterious effects on the environment and health.

India's choice of chicken and fish, however, is less grain intensive than pork or beef. Vegetarians are grain neutral. In that way India's taboos have some economic and environmental benefit. They're moderating India's meat consumption without any government intervention.

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