In Asia, home to over 60% of the world’s population, India is perhaps the only nation that concerns itself with animal welfare at all. We have laws on animal welfare and even an attempt to follow them. Animals are also mentioned in our constitution as something more than just for eating. Each citizen is, in fact, enjoined to care for and preserve nature and its creatures.
India is unique in Asia. But for how long? I am not overly optimistic about the future because there is this great belief sweeping in that everything the West does is right and we are beginning to imitate its worst mistakes. Junk food is fashionable. Eating meat is regarded as progressive. Eating animals is seen as a brave departure from tradition and old fashioned values.
As a largely agricultural nation, India is hugely dependent on its animals. Our farming systems rely almost entirely on them. However this does not translate into better treatment for these creatures who are as badly treated as anywhere else. Apart from farm animals, we have meat animals—those raised for slaughter. Buffaloes and goats comprise the bulk of these. Sheep are raised for wool and killed for meat later.Then there is poultry. About 2.5 billion birds are killed every year.
Surprisingly, India eats only 25% of these animals. The rest is exported primarily to the Middle East. This extraordinary statistic reflects the lopsided logic of killing our animals to feed other nations. Neither does it make sense economically. People wrongly believe that exporting meat earns the country money, when actually just the opposite is true.
To begin with, Indian meat is priced far lower than that from any other country so we have to kill 3 to 4 times the number of animals to earn as much from meat export as any other nation. And what we lose in terms of the economic contribution of these animals alive far outweighs what we gain from their death. Every dead goat, for example, fetches approximately Rs 250/- . But what we lose from its export amounts to Rs 60,000 directly and Rs 100,000 indirectly. This is how it works:
Our goats are not grown on farms, in fact apart from poultry no animals are. People with land, grow crops instead. People with no land, raise animals. They are given pairs of goats as part of government relief and self-help schemes. With no land to grow fodder for their animals, these goatherds raise and graze their animals on open ground—hillsides, parks, and forest areas. Protected wildlife sanctuaries are the last green areas in India and amount to a paltry 8% green cover for the whole country. But even this figure is dwindling because goat owners need green for their goats and this is where they find it. Each goat according to a government survey, consumes 10 acres of land before it is killed at the age of 2. Nor does it simply eat the grass like a cowactually pulls up the plant by the root, destroys young shoots and leaves the earth bare. The top soil flies off and pretty soon the land is barren.
In Rajasthan, which is a desert to begin with, the goats destroy whatever little vegetation there is and encroach into the sanctuary area all the time. The strong winds then scatter the sand from the ravaged area and the desert creeps up further. When the land becomes barren, the rivulets dry up. These little rivulets coming from the hills, run into the rivers that feed all of us. When they dry up, water levels go down and water shortages go up.
India suffers from an acute and perennial water problem with states squabbling over river waters constantly. States that share river waters start political feuds and physical riots over getting less water than they need but that is because there is less to go around. And that, in turn, is because there is less water coming into the rivers because goats are eroding the land and drying up its streams.
So the raising and killing of goats leads to human conflict and killings as well.
Another irony is that though we have a great international campaign launched with much fanfare and publicity, to save the Tiger, this magnificent predator is being murdered due to goats. This is because when shepherds take their flocks into the jungle, they ensure the area is safe by killing all the tigers first. Meat poisoned with pesticide is placed near watering holes and the unsuspecting tiger meets with a most terrible end. In recent times, more tigers have died from poisoning than any other cause. In just one month we lost 3 tigers this way in the Jim Corbett Sanctuary which is considered among the better protected reserves in the country. The shepherd is not interested in conserving the tiger, he is interested in conserving his goats. As long as goats continue to be raised for meat, the tiger is doomed to destruction.
Apart from killing the tiger,goats are also destroying all wildlife habitat. In the jungle, goats eat the undergrowth and all the young shoots so no new forest comes up. Our forests are constantly under attack for fuel. This was always the case, only now the trees or branches that are cut are no longer replaced by new ones because of the herds that infest the area. About 25 years ago our forests covered some 23% of the land area. Today we are down to 8% - you cannot have trees when you have goats and buffaloes.
All village tree planting efforts fail for lack of tree guards. Goats and buffaloes eat the plants. So the villager goes into the primary forest to cut trees because his village has no fuelwood. So it is a two pronged attack on the forest. In two years 500 km of forest have disappeared.
What does this all translate into in real terms?
The Moghuls chose Delhi for the country’s capital because of its perfect location. Surrounded by the Aravalli mountain chain and with its own river, the Yamuna, flowing right through it , it was a self-sufficient and secure city. Wild boar and deer were plentiful. Today Delhi is one of the most polluted and unhealthy cities in the world. The once dense Aravallis are totally denuded and the wind carries sand and dust into the city. Delhi has a very high SPM (suspended particulate matter) level and a correspondingly high level of respiratory diseases.
India has taken loans totalling $ 54,000,000 from Japan to regreen the Aravallis. Even so,we have not been able to grow even a single blade of grass. Because the moment the grass appears, so do the goats.
The Aravallis used to be a major catchment area for rain water. The vegetation used to trap the water which used to seep into the soil and raise the water table. Now in the absence of any vegetation,the water runs off rapidly without percolating into the soil. As a result Delhi’s water table has dropped drastically. This in turn has affected lifestyles. Rows of women must line up for hours at a stretch to fill a bucket of water. They must then choose between drinking and bathing and washing since it cannot stretch to all three. As it grows hotter, more energy is needed for fans and airconditioners. So more powerplants come in and the cycle of pollution and wastage of money goes on.
The issues surrounding goat production go far beyond the morals of meat eating or animal welfare. It has thrown our entire economy out of gear, with our land and water systems collapsing. In a country where millions of people go hungry, 37% of all arable land is being used to grow fodder for animals that are being raised and killed for export.
As if that were not enough we are even exporting soyabean to feed European livestock who will in turn be murdered for meat.
These kinds of figures cry out against any kind of meat production at all, compassionate or otherwise. I see no reason why India should feed the world at the expense of her own land, her water, her people, her hunger. What are we killing ourselves for. Countries that do not want to destroy their own lands and waters are paying us a minuscule amount to squander these invaluable resources. And we are killing ourselves in a slow spiral while a few slaughterhouse owners and meat exporters , who are mainly NRIs grow rich..
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