Centre restricts sale of cows for slaughter through live animal market: Not a blanket ban, provision ensures traceability
The provision restricting sale of cattle for slaughter through the live animal market aims to ensure that only healthy animals are traded for agricultural purposes. This restriction, however, is being misinterpreted as a blanket ban on cow slaughter.
For decades, live animal markets, or pashu haat/mela or shandy have been openly selling both milch animals and animals for slaughter without any regulations. These markets do not have any facilities for veterinary inspections or even basic facilities such as water troughs, ramps for loading and unloading. Insurmountable cruelties such as over-crowding in markets, over-loading during transportation, failure to provide food, water or shelter to the animals brought to these markets was routine.
In India, some of the largest cattle markets are hosted by Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh every year. Estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of animals including cows, bulls, buffaloes, horses, goats, sheep, donkeys, camels and birds are transported in deplorable conditions with no access to food, water or rest to be traded at live markets. Despite the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 describing these as cruelty, there was no improvement made to the process by the stakeholders.
During HSI/India’s campaign to prevent illegal transport of animals to Nepal for the Gadhimai festival sacrifice, it was discovered that 70-80 percent of the animals for sacrifice were being taken from India. Animals confiscated from illegal transport were auctioned in such live markets, often making them the go-to place for buying seized/confiscated animals and from there, recycled into illegal trafficking. This led the HSI/India Government Affairs Liaison Gauri Maulekhi to seek the Supreme Court's intervention. The court then directed the Government of India to regulate live animal markets. Pursuant to the directions of the Supreme Court, the Animal Welfare Board of India framed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, and recommended it to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
These rules were notified on 25 May, 2017, three years since directions of the Supreme Court. The provision restricting sale of cattle for slaughter through the live animal market aims to ensure that only healthy animals are traded for agricultural purposes. Thereby, to ensure traceability, animals for slaughter would have to be sourced directly from farms. This restriction, however, is being misinterpreted as a blanket ban on cow slaughter.
Far from it, the rules intend to promote the concept of “farm to fork”, which revolves around the traceability of food products as they move through the supply chain. For 16 years now, as per the Slaughter House Rules, 2001, and for more than six years now, through the Food Safety and Standards Regulations 2011, ante-mortem (pre-slaughter) and post-mortem inspections have been mandatory. The livestock market rules only reiterate what already has been in existence for more than a decade. If during such an inspection the animal is found to have an infectious disease or on antibiotics for treatment, the Animal Husbandry Department should be able to trace the infected animal to the farm. Identifying the farm will help prevent the spread of such diseases through necessary quarantine and disease control protocols.
Furthermore, there is a lack of traceability of the animals in the live animal markets. It has been seen that animals that are being sold for slaughter at these markets are generally unfit, despite which they are traded, making the markets a major hub for the spread of infectious diseases. Before these rules, there were no records or liability on cattle traders and the animals sold could be suffering from contagious diseases. The animal could also be on antibiotic treatment, which, as per the law, requires being withdrawn with enough phase – out time before slaughter. Ultimately, the meat that was reaching the consumers had the possibility of being contaminated by disease or being laced with antibiotics.
Due to the present system of open markets that allow trade of both milch and slaughter animals, and multiple buyers and sellers, it becomes impossible to trace an animal back to its farm of origin. Hence, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 has been notified by the Government of India. The rules prohibit the sale of animals for slaughter only through the livestock markets so that animals for slaughter could be sought directly from farms, thus ensuring traceability which leads to food safety. These rules, thereby, are not only beneficial for the animals while they are alive but also for the country’s food safety.
(The author is the managing director of HSI/India and former member, legal sub-committee of the Animal Welfare Board of India. He tweets @ngjayasimha.)
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