Beyond the Beef Ban
Once again, the beef ban issue is surging back to the forefront as politicians in certain Indian states started implementing much tougher penalties including jailtime for the slaughtering of cows.
In the past few years, the great beef debacle evoked passionate feelings and produced sensational media headlines across the globe. I saw a plethora articles in the world media with many assertions from various angles analyzing, and dissecting the Maharashtra Government’s actions. As I read them, and the reader feedbacks and comments I realised how diverse and divisive we still are, and how faith and misinformation, ignorance, and greed plays in our lives. The contentious issue is polarizing us as it garners strong feelings, positive, negative, and from the ridiculous to the sublime.
It is not about beef or the ban
What bothers me is the way people manipulate beef ban issue in every conceivable way: branding and blaming each other. People have evoked God and pitched one religion against another. Some see it as a fundamental rights issue, and for others, it is a moral and humane issue. Then, there are pundits professing the rich vs. poor ideology, and predicting dire economic consequences. As usual, politicians are pandering to their voter bases.
Take religion out of the equation
We know religion always provide a legitimate anchor for contentious issues. Interpreting scriptures to one’s liking provides legitimacy to issues. However, if we remove religion from the beef ban issue; we can debate it from a commonsensical viewpoint. Interestingly, I read a brief review of a book, ‘Islam, and Shakahar’, by award-winning author Padmashri Muzaffer Hussain. It is about Mr. Hussain’s interpretation of ‘Protection of Animals in the Islamic world’, and related historical backgrounds on beef eating habits and the many 'fatwas' existed on animal killing during the Mughal empires. A Washington Post article titled, ‘Indian state bans beef; California banned horsemeat; what if an American state banned pork?’ has an interesting perspective. Author Eugene Volokh asks, “How much does it matter that the beef ban seems to be seen as offensive by a fairly substantial religious minority, for whom beef is an important part of their diet, while very few Californians would have eaten horse meat even without the ban?”
Not a rich vs. poor or minority vs. majority issue
I see discussions centered on beef as poor man's diet. It is argued that beef is an inexpensive source of protein for the poor. I am not sure how inexpensive beef is when compared to beans and lentils. Yet, others proclaim the ban as a crime perpetrated on the minority by the majority. That argument is again irrelevant since, in a democratic society, laws are for the common good. Laws dealing with humane issues definitely protect the less fortunate animals as they are under our mercy at all the time. Do we have the sense and sensibility to respect other lives, that’s the question here?
It is not really an economy issue
Many articles touched on the impact of the beef ban on the economy: job loss in the millions uprooted livelihoods, and loss of trade revenue to businesses and to the treasury. I remember seeing such vociferous and hyped up discussions in late 1960 when discussions on computerisation emerged. Labour unions, politicians, and pundits were dismayed by the mere thought of job loss by introducing timesaving computer functionalities. Now, after half a century later, we savor the results of new technologies and realise how our lives and the nation's economy changed around. Likewise, the economic system will find its way out and adapt according to the challenges.
Conversely, our non-vegetarian diet contributes to certain major illnesses, thus our healthcare costs are increasing annually to staggering amounts. It is the major drain on our treasury.
Make it a health issue
There are definite heath issues related to consuming animal meat, especially beef. There have been many research studies done on red meat consumption, and its ill effects. National Cancer Institute studies reported increased risk for bladder cancer due to components in red meat. Researchers from the Keck School of Medicine found that there is significant risk associated with colorectal cancer from the consumption of red meat and processed meat. Another study from Harvard School of Public Health has ‘found that red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality’. Archives of Internal Medicine article quotes an exhaustive research study done by Harvard researchers of more than 37,000 men and 83,000 women and their diet habits. The study found that those who consumed meat (both processed and unprocessed red meat) have increased the risk of premature death. Studies conducted by National Cancer Institute also provide similar conclusions. These are a few of the major studies, and all of them points to the ill effects of a diet rich in meat and associated products.
Animal-borne diseases are another concern. Eating contaminated, tainted, and pathogen-infected meat makes people sick. From simple food poisoning to major illness such as tuberculosis, to serious bacterial and viral infections are transmitted to human from animals. Thus, our health is closely linked to the health of other living beings.
Animals and our burgeoning egos
Our food habits evolved along the human evolutionary path. Man’s affinity towards meat is an acquired habit perhaps forced upon to us by circumstances. No matter, it is appalling to realise that man is the only species that find pleasure in killing other living beings for fun.
We breed animals for our own purposes. From milk to meat, and leather, we draw various economic benefits from cattle. We also breed them for our sadistic pleasures. A recent article in Bloomberg Business Daily Newsletter is a revelation. It narrates how South African ranchers who breed mutant variations of animals for the enjoyment of elite hunters. They crossbreed and produce exotic looking mutant varieties with unique features and allow high-value hunters to hunt them down.
Organised cattle farmers, like any other industry, find ways to improve production to beef up their bottom lines. The high-yield production techniques such as ‘intensive indoor systems’, ‘close confinement systems’, ‘extreme selective breeding’, ‘forced and over feeding’, etc. create hardships to the animals. Unethical factory farming practices are also common in the industry. Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, is also the founder of Compassion Over Killing organization. He said, “From locking animals in tiny cages to slicing parts of their bodies off without any pain relief, to genetically selecting them to grow so obese and so fast that many become lame, it’s by far the biggest cause of animal suffering in the world”.
‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander’
There are multiple benefits associated with treating animals in a humane way irrespective of the service they provide us. The ban is a small step towards rectifying a major worldwide phenomenon inflicting cruelty to animals.
The ban is also good for the environment as livestock production affects the environment and the climate of the planet. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the worldwide cattle population generates more greenhouse gas (Carbon dioxide, Methane, Nitrous oxide) than the automobile sector. Greenhouse gasses blanket the earth preventing heat loss to space and changing Earth’s climate. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the cattle population, and related human activities help sustain a quality environment for the inhabitants.
We realie better health benefits by reducing consumption of meat and meat products. A diet rich in animal meat is a cause for hypertension, heart diseases, high cholesterol, cancer and other illnesses. Of course, meat has been around for centuries and is the main source of protein in the human diet. However, there are many ways to supplement protein in our diets from sources other than meat. A diet rich in greens, beans, fibres, lentils, milk products, soy products, nuts, and seeds is a guilt-free diet.
A total ban on animal killing is impossible without depriving certain groups’ food habits and livelihoods. In the human food chain, even though we are not born carnivores, somehow animal meat found a place along with grains, vegetables, and fruits. It is impossible to get rid of that practice, as it has been their way of life from time immemorial. Geography and environment play a role in our food habit along with religion, and culture. For example, for Eskimos and certain aboriginal groups’ survival depends on hunting and fishing. However, they consider them accordingly as animals are part of their living.
We should be aware of the indiscriminate ways we farm, and slaughter animals for food, and fun. With no qualms we poach and kill wild animals, we domesticate and abuse majestic elephants, and we neglect our pets. Neglected animals, big and small, roam around in traffic, junctions, and other places jeopardising everyone’s life. Compassion towards animals must include their welfare, protection, and effective population control in a humane way.
No matter how we analyse it, the beef ban issue has consequences as it influences people’s lives in various ways. The issue has pros, cons, and involves staunch human emotions. Thus, it is not going to go away any soon.
(The author, a technology professional, resides in Toronto, Canada with his family)