Peta's Pet

UK-based animal welfare group People for Ethical Treatment of Animals has been campaigning against Indian leather, alleging ill-treatment of animals in the slaughter houses here. This has had a great impact on the Indian export with countries like UK and Germany banning the Indian leather. Doubts, however, persist about the sincerity of peta's move considering animals are slaughtered mainly for meat in these slaughter houses. There is also a campaign against cattle milk consumption, which peta claims to be unhygienic and another example of animal cruelty. As cattle plays a key role in the Indian rural economy, moves such as these threaten to the affect the agriculture sector

Published: Friday 15 March 2002

-- Devinder Sharma
New Delhi-based food and trade analyst

the issue is a part of the trends in global trade in totality. Western countries are trying to put obstacles in the name of sanitary and phytosanitary measures. They are trying to erect trade barriers in the name of environment and health. But in reality, the products exported from the North to the South are not only environmentally unsound but also rubbish. It is very shameful and unfortunate to project that the products from developing countries are environmentally unsafe.

There is nothing new in this case. They will go on creating these barriers in future also. In 1996, India imported one million tonnes of wheat from Australia after rejecting the offer from the us. This was done on the grounds of one of the clauses in Codex alimentaris which says that wheat should not have more than 0.003 per cent of downy mildew. The us wheat did not conform to the standards. Americans were obviously upset about it. They met the top brass in the Agriculture ministry and contested that no wheat in the world can meet those standards. They also pressurized India to import the wheat from the us as India had been importing the same standard wheat in the past also. One could see clearly how they maintain double standards when it comes to the environmental standards.

There are numerous examples of the hypocrisy they practice to maintain advantage in the global trade. For the last two years, the us is pushing hard to dump excessive produce of soyabean to India. us soyabean contains seven diseases and five pests, which is not found in India. We are also opposing this on the grounds that it may be genetically modified (gm) variety. We do not have the requisite technology or the laws in place to segregate normal and gm variety. But the us is lobbying hard to push through the deal. There are very strict environmental standards for the tropical fruits but the standards are very loose in the case of temperate fruits. That simply means India would be unable to export fruits to us.

Now, look at Germany. It banned carpets from India and Pakistan on the child labour issue. It is playing the same game with the cattle hide by boycotting Indian leather products in the garb of prevention of cruelty to animals. In reality, Germany is the biggest exporter of toxic wastes in the world. Germany should clean up its own house. They claim that handling of these hazardous waste will provide employment in the country like India. They would never accept these things in Germany. Isn't this double standard? Germany, incidentally is also the biggest supplier of non-essential drugs (drugs that have outdated their utility). They do not allow these drugs to be sold inside their country but allow the companies to sell it elsewhere. India is one of the major recipients. In spite of Germany's clear double standards, nobody challenges them. The western countries are not concerned about the environment. They are only concerned that their house remains clean.

As far as leather products are concerned, we are one of the major exporters of the world. They obviously are trying to hinder our trade. That the cattle from India or milk products from India are cause for a number of disease is completely unfounded. Everybody knows, all the major diseases and newer vectors have always come from the west. Look at aids, or any plant disease. We spend 55 per cent of our pesticide expenditure to control cotton bollworm, which actually has come from the us. So, the reasons behind this campaign to boycott Indian leather products in the name of environment are totally commercial and to keep the balance of global trade in the favour of the western countries. We should not have any misconception about that. We need to show them the mirror. Our government will have to fight for that. Leather and leather products are big foreign exchange earners for India. If we lose it, we will lose it forever.

Activist and co-directior of Gandhi Peace Foundation

that we are not taking proper care of our animals is true, at least not as well as we should. But a campaign directed only against the animal products from India can only be run to unjustifiably malign our image. Compared to employment of a cruel technology and the demonic treatment that the animals receive in the west as a matter of normal, institutionalized and industrial practice, ill treatment of animals in India stands nowhere. Talking about slaughter houses, it is true that west has mastered the art of slaughtering. In India, slaughter has no social sanction.

No foreign agency should be allowed to influence our state policy, however pious or promising it may appear. peta, if it sees more cruelty in India than in the west, it must be having some particular agenda in mind. If a pot calls a kettle black --a western organisation instructionalising Indian cattles' case instead of looking at their home turf -- there is something more to it than just protection of animal rights. Indian government needs to ask this organisation to shut down its shop in India.

Coming back to India, there should be a total ban on slaughtering of animals. If we cannot put a ban on slaughtering, selling and buying of meat products must be banned, so that there is no trade reason for animal slaughter. If anything needs to be banned, to me it is the animal husbandry department of the Ministry of Agriculture that has turned the whole country into a butcher house. The 'sustainable animal population' maintained by the department is only to cater to the leather and meat. They have done irreparable damage to the livestock of the country, especially the cow population. This has a negative effect on the lives of small and marginal farmers who are totally dependent on the animals for farming. Our country cannot afford mechanised farming. Cow killing has been translated into killing of farmers. This is one of the major problem areas of agriculture in our country. If you want seventy per cent of farming population to survive and not perish, cow and its progeny must be protected from slaughter.

Our civilisation has given the cow a central position in our lives. We have lived with the animals through the ages. Cow has been regarded as symbol of motherhood. And who is preaching us not to take cow's milk? The representatives of the west who have turned the cow into cannibals. They prepare the animal feed with meat and other animal products, use all kinds of hormones for high yield. In India we believe in gau-seva (service of the cow). We have developed a close relationship with the animals. Yes, I accept that at least 15 cows die in Delhi alone by eating from the garbage. This is a crime against animals. But we are far behind the west where economies have been built on the killings and exploitation of animals, besides weaker nations and their people. More than 15 per cent of The Netherland's economy is based on animal killings. Same is true for other western countries.

I believe that leather trade except that from the dead animals should be completely banned in India and elsewhere also. That will not cost the country more than a few million rupees. But the question is -- can we afford the degeneration of our livestock that not only has been the backbone of our economy but also of the ecology and the environment? We in India do not see animals with only utilitarian viewpoint, as in the West. We have made them a part of our lives. Cow's milk has its place in our history and mythology. Demand of a ban on cow's milk sounds completely unreasonable. We do not practice injecting hormones like the west, so there is no chance of any toxic effect. Cow and its milk have been the living example of our universalisation of the concept of motherhood. The logic can also be extended to other animals. They are part of our relationship with the nature and environment, both overtly and covertly. Delinking ourselves from the animals is bound to degenerate our own concept of motherhood. But I am aware that modern economic and commercial thinking has influenced our people to quite an extent.

Even a child can understand this relationship but not the economists. They are concerned only with the exploitation of animals in terms of business, which is unfortunate. The peta campaign is just a fallout of this business battle. What we are witnessing today is unfortunately, the translation of economic principles of the modern capitalism into moral sphere. Finally, only the moral principles have to be translated into economic principles and not vice-versa. If we follow the West, annihilation, not only of animals marked "useless" but also of weaker people will take a systemic form, as has taken place to some extent. Once thoroughly systemised, its obvious forms would be such that likes of peta will have no problem. peta works in India less for the service, more in order to prepare a "gutter inspector's report", to use Mahatma Gandhi's epithet in a similar case. peta seems from its literature, to be driven by an anti-India agenda. Cattle is only their instrument, not concern.

Director of Bangalore-based animal welfare group CARTMAN

Peta is an animal welfare organisation (awo), based in uk, which has been creating awareness in India for reducing suffering of meat animals during their transportation and slaughter. Finding that campaigns by awos have not produced results, peta lobbied in uk and Germany to stop import of leather goods from India, which has reduced exports by one billion rupees. Suddenly, leather exporters and government have realised the deplorable condition of the meat sector, where animals are undergoing unimaginable suffering.

After studying some slaughter houses, peta's experts have suggested improvements, which the Bangalore-based animal welfare group Centre for Action, Research and Technology for Man, Animal and Nature (cartman) had already done for two decades. In 1986, a Union government committee, of which I was the chairman, had proposed comprehensive proposals for modernization, which have not been even considered. Though the government is fully aware of the need for improvements, it has been unable to do anything so far due to opposition from meat trade and certain communities who are against slaughter itself.

Six million tonnes of meat is produced annually in filthy slaughter houses, transported in dirty vehicles and marketed in fly- infested outlets. Most of the 3000 municipal slaughter houses, established 100 years back, are now in a dilapidated condition, in congested central parts of towns. Efforts to shift them failed because of opposition from butchers and residents of areas chosen for relocation. Union government has provided funds for improvements and for establishing new ones. But the state governments and municipalities have not utilized same. Funds allotted for Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and other cities are lying unutilized for several years.

Unhygienic meat is a health hazard to the 600 million meat eaters. Millions residing and working within, and around, slaughter houses are adversely affected by the stench from polluted environment.

Thirty million large and 120 million small animals are brought from distant locations -- 300 to 1000 kilometres away - on foot or in congested trucks, tortured all the way. They are not given rest, water or food. Large animals arrive as a bundle of bones. Animals wallow for hours in pool of blood and dung. They witness the gory scene of others being roughly handled and butchered. No stunning is done, as butchers object on religious grounds. Slaughter rate is ten times the capacity. Their agony ends when the butcher's knife delivers them from their bondage to man, whom these wretched creatures served well for years.

The only feasible solution, proposed by cartman to Union government long ago, is to build small slaughter houses in rural areas where animals become available for meat. Meat can be transported in refrigerated vans to urban consumption centres, instead of transporting live animals as at present. All ill-effects, including animal suffering, can be avoided; and benefits will be many. Congestion in slaughter houses, environmental pollution, wastage in transport and handling will also be eliminated. Value added of Rs 100 billion, now appropriated by urban areas, will be be retained by farmers, who will get a better price for their animals. Rural employment will go up. Stunning will eliminate pain during sticking.

peta seems to have pointed out that cow milk is not good for health. Six hundred million meat eaters have not protested against unhygienic meat. So people would not worry about it. India is producing 80 million tons of milk, valued at Rs 800 billion. The powerful Dairy lobby will not be affected.

Most of the 1,000 awos, with a total annual budget of Rs 200 million, are largely engaged in welfare of stray dogs and pets. Only very few awos, like cartman, are working for reducing suffering of work and meat animals. Eighty million work animals plough 100 million hectares of land and haul 14 m carts, thus saving six million tons of petroleum, valued at Rs 120 billion. These receive 100 billion beatings in their working life. Bruised skins fetch lower price. Yet nothing has been done to reduce their agony.

Livestock contributes products, valued at 1,000 billion rupees, forming eight per cent of the gross national product (gnp). Investment in livestock is only 0.2 per cent of development funds, which is an index of neglect. Reduction in export has created awareness of the problem. But an apathetic government system cannot do much due to opposition and sensitiveness of the issues.

Founder trustee of Kindness to Animals and Respect for Environment (kare)

I couldn't agree more with peta when they state that there is inhuman treatment meted out to animals; that Indian leather (and any leather for that matter) should not be used and the fact that the milk we drink is unhygienic and is produced by ill-treating the animals. Leather should only be obtained after the animal is killed. Logically speaking the close connection between the slaughter houses and the leather industry is too strong and obvious. The truth is, that leather, most of the time is not a slaughter house by-product.

Right from the word go, unbelievable cruelty and torture is meted out to animals (goats, sheep, buffaloes, cows and pigs) in order to get their flesh for food and their hide for leather. We have been exposing the horrors of these cruelties in slaughter houses since 1988 in the form of a memorandum to the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and presenting evidence for the Idgah slaughter house case in Delhi.

From the moment these animals are loaded on the trucks, (or made to walk long distances) the entire duration of their hellish and torturous journey till the time they arive at these slaughter houses, where they are mercilessly done to death -- is an unbelievable story of torture, illtreatment and cruelty. Packed like sardines in trucks, (which by law should have only six large animals but in reality carry upto 40-50 animals) where these animals trample each other to death, die of asphexia, gouge each other with their horns, kept hungry and thirsty without any rest or protection. How can the leather industry or the meat industry for that matter turn a blind eye to these realities? How can the leather industry and the meat industry choose to ignore the manner in which these hapless animals are thrown like objects from the trucks to the ground below when they arrive at their final destination -- the slaughter house? The final blow comes only after they are subjected to further humiliation. The bucher's knife is no relief as they watch each other being killed, fearfully waiting for their own turn -- feeling their own blood and life drain out of their body.

Laws are broken every minute as their enforcement is weak. Young, healthy milch and working male cattle (buffaloes, cows and bullocks) is butchered only because the country needs foreign exchange. Animals are the wealth of the farmers. When young males and milch animals are sold-off to the butchers, they are deprived of manure and the plough. In order to sustain his land, the farmer gets into a debt trap. He borrows from the money lender to buy a tractor, fertilizer and fuel for the tractor. Ultimately he cannot pay back his loans, loses his land holding and commits suicide (this has been reported by several national dailies over the last few years). It is a vicious cycle. Our farmers could easily earn more if they had their animals with them. There is also the false notion that modernised and mechanised slaughter houses are less cruel and less painful. It cannot absolve our conscience, nor can it wash our guilt away.

It has been said in our culture that milk is the elixir of life. It is a very intimate part of the lives of us Indians, not only from the food point of view but also from the social, religious and mythological aspects. In the past, most of the milk was procured from cows, some from goats and later from buffaloes. We live with our animals in the rural areas. We worship them and feed them first before we partake of our meals. We are supposed to respect them. Inspite of all these facts, I have to agree with peta that the milk we consume is unhygienic and there is a tremendous amount of cruelty involved in the manner in which dairying is done here. Cows and buffaloes are looked after only till the time they are able to produce milk and calves. To ensure that they produce the maximum amount of milk, these animals, especially the cows, are injected with hormones. Antibiotics are given to ensure good 'health'. But in reality, the cattle rearing tribes like the gujjars misuse this drug to such a large extent and so regularly that in three to four years they render the cow 'dry' and 'useless'. Needless to say, the animal is sold to the butcher. The male calves are also abandoned, starved or sold.

Though the cow and its progeny are supposed to be protected under the directive principles of the constitution of India, the states of Kerala and West Bengal give legal sanction to cow slaughter. These animals are housed in filthy conditions, given sub-standard fodder and there is little or no medical care. The process of milking, bottling and storing also takes place under unhygenic conditions. And often there is a forced separation of the cow from its calf. Mechanised dairy farming has its own contribution to cruelty on these animals. Asking Indians to give up milk is like asking the Chinese to give up rice. Since at this jucture, it would be next to impossible to do so, a better strategy would be to have animal welfare laws implemented and offenders punished. Housing, feeding, grazing, veterinary care, milking and storing should be properly taken care of.

There is a growing trend in the West to highlight the disadvantages of milk as 'food' and the various diseases associated with milk.This is thought provoking. If we cannot be kind,'naturally', the health factor might just make us think twice -- both about milk and about kindness.

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