Attacks on Hindu-majority India’s beef industry hit buffalo meat trade

New Delhi/Mumbai, October 27

Rising tensions over eating beef in Hindu-majority India are starting to hit multi-billion dollar buffalo meat trade, with exports falling in last six months as traders run short of supplies and China lifts purchases from Brazil.

Religious activists, who critics say have been emboldened by nationalist premier Narendra Modi’s ascendance, have stepped up attacks on beef industry, alleging cows are being killed and falsely labelled for export as buffalo meat.

Cows are revered in Hindu culture and their killing is banned in some states.

Beef exports are banned, but in recent weeks suppliers of buffalo meat have been roughed up by Hindu mobs on suspicion of carrying cow carcasses in their trucks, exporters said.

As a result, exporters said only a fraction of meat processing centres authorised to export are operating in the major selling state Uttar Pradesh, where a mob of Hindus lynched a Muslim man last month over rumours he ate beef.

“If we get orders there is no supply; if suppliers try to sell, they are harassed,” said Mohammed Tauseef, director of Al-Hamd Agro Food Products in Uttar Pradesh.

Days after Modi condemned the murder in Uttar Pradesh, following criticism over rising religious intolerance in India, villagers in Himachal Pradesh state killed another Muslim man for allegedly smuggling cows. The government, meanwhile, said steps against illegal exports had helped cut shipments.

“There’s no concrete information but there has always been a rumour (that cow meat is exported),” Junior Farm Minister Sanjeev Balyan said this month, adding that authorities had been asked to inspect meat and tighten checks at ports.

India is world’s biggest buffalo meat exporter and April to September shipments fell 13.2 per cent from a year ago to 598,901 tonnes, although in value terms they plunged 15.5 per cent to $1.89 billion, data from Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics showed.

Indian sales have also lost out to Brazil due to a sharper depreciation in the real currency that has lost 30 per cent this year compared to only three per cent in the Indian rupee.

“Traditionally Vietnam sources most of its meat imports from India due to freight advantage,” said a Mumbai-based exporter. “(But now), we can’t compete with Brazil.”

Several Indian exporters, however, are more worried about what could be permanent setbacks to trade as some politicians even call for a complete ban on the meat export industry, which generated about $5 billion in sales last year.