In India, meat export, particularly buffalo meat export, has always been a politically sensitive issue. It had led to debates during the UPA regime and now, in the Modi-led NDA government, there is a raging debate about the sector with women and child development minister and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi raising issues regarding ownership of meat processing units and the alleged links of meat processing and exporting companies with terrorist outfits.
What is perhaps getting overshadowed in the political play is the fact that India today is the world’s largest producer of buffalo meat, replacing Vietnam and is much ahead of developed nations like Australia and Argentina. According to official estimates, it is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country and has clocked a consistent compounded growth rate of 30-35 per cent in the last three years, something few other sectors are able to match.
Meat exports—worth over $5 billion—constitute 12 per cent of all of India’s exports. Of this, exports of buffalo meat alone is worth $4.4 billion, according to the Agricultural and Processed Food Export Development Authority (APEDA), a body under the Ministry of Commerce. Says APEDA Chairman Santosh Sarangi, “After Basmati rice, buffalo meat is India’s largest export commodity in terms of value. Last year, we exported 1.4 million tones of buffalo meat from India.”
The other—including chicken, goat and pig—meats are also exported from India,. but in smaller quantities as the demand for these products is very high in India. Also, these products fetch a much higher price in India which discourages units engaged in this business to look for exports. There is very limited consumption of buffalo meat in India, which is restricted to a few states only.
While there are 33 approved abattoirs and over 50 integrated units which have both abattoirs and processing facilities in India, there are over 20,000 units which are involved in the trade. Contrary to public belief, many of these units are either fully owned, or run by non-Muslims. The V.H. Group, promoted by Dr B.V. Rao, which markets its products under the brand Venky’s, is one example and is one of the biggest players in poultry products and eggs.
The political talk of shady companies entering the meat trade is negated by the fact that the government has already mandated meat slaughtering and processing units to be registered with APEDA. It is also a fact that India follows a strict and layered system of registration that not only looks at issues such as hygiene, sanitation standards and quality but also at the ownership of the companies. Moreover, the registration for abattoirs is valid for just one year and has to be renewed annually while that of processing units is valid for two years.
Exporters feel that the meat industry is a feeder to many other ancillary industries which feed on the byproducts of this sector. Says Ajay Sahai, DG and CEO of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO), “The issue has to be seen in totality. The Buffalo meat industry supplies leather to the leather industry where India is an emerging exporter. At present we account for just 3 per cent of global leather exports but in value terms it is worth $ 9 billion and is growing very fast.”
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