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Last updated: 26 Sep, 2014  

Meat export banned, only boneless varieties allowed

Arun Goyal | 29 Aug, 2006
The DGFT has banned the export of primary forms of meat by a notification issued on 24 August. The ban does not cover boneless meat processed from meat with bones in primary form. Our sources say the action is based on the fears of FMD (foot and mouth disease) which has broken out in Brazil. European Union is allowing only boneless beef to enter the area from Brazil to prevent spread of the contagious disease to its livestock from imported primary beef which is not cured sufficiently. Britain is specially fearful after the spread of the mad cow disease and does not want a repeat contagion in any case.

India feels that the restriction on export to only boneless meat with a ban on meat with bones will add to the brand image of Indian meat. Animal carcasses are subjected to maturation for at least 24 hours before deboning, subsequent heat processing during the bone removal operation is believed to be sufficient to kill the FMD virus.

A look at the structure of meat exports based on DGCIS statistics shows that India is doing quite well in the world market. About a third of the Rs 2700 crore market estimated in 05-06 by ABS comprises of the Gulf countries. New destinations like Philippines, Malaysia and Angola have appeared on the scene to account for 40 percent of the market. The growth over the previous year is a good 45 percent. The mammoth stocks of cattle in the country are showing up in the export figures.

The ban will not affect exports in the short run since 90 percent of meat export is in the category of boneless bovine frozen meat. However, the exporter will not be able to offer variety to the foreign buyer who may want raw meat for running his processing factory. Besides this, the ban will kill 4.4 percent of meat export in the mutton part of the spectrum. Mutton is traditionally exported with bones and is preferred by consumers in this form since the bone to meat is low compared to beef or mutton.

At another level, the ban makes little sense. India has always had FMD on a small scale in the cattle population, however the disease can never grow in the sense of Brazil where the herds are stall fed and reared in factory conditions for the fat laden meat. In India, the cattle is seldom reared for meat, well exercised and starved stocks are gathered from fields for disposal in the slaughter houses. Indian meat is known as lean meat which is heavy on muscle and light on fat. FMD cannot be a problem in India. Animal slaughtering and salmonella and other bacterial infection in the post slaughter stages is the main quality issue. Strict inspection by APEDA of slaughter houses and meat inspection by the export inspection agency is a necessary condition for customs clearance of meat consignments.

There is no case for ban in the case of mutton since FMD is rare in the sheep and goat. The whole world has a free export policy on this segment. We have scored a self goal by including this segment which accounts for a good 4.4 percent in exports. The market wants the mutton with bone which gives form and structure to the product. India has the largest population of goats in the world, the animal sustains the poorest among the poor besides providing soft skins to the garment and leather industry.

Last, and most important, the developed countries consisting of US and EU do not buy Indian meat, their tastes and preferences are very different from those in India. FMD is hardly an issue in the Gulf and ASEAN and the African markets where Indian meat is in demand, they have hardly any stocks of cattle to protect from disease. Our ban action has only drawn unnecessary attention towards animal diseases in India.

As of now, cattle export is restricted in the Foreign Trade Policy on account of cultural tastes in India but tens of thousands of cows are pushed across the Indian border into Bangladesh and Pakistan every week to feed the hungry market for cheap Indian beef. Export of beef in any form is prohibited in the Policy but there is large scale circumvention in the guise of buffalo meat. In the ban notification of 24 August, the export of buffalo, sheep and goat meat in primary form with bones is prohibited while boneless varieties are allowed for export with official inspection of both the meat and the slaughter house on grounds of sanitation and health.

Pulses export: They say that India is a rule based society. However, actual experience shows that each and every time a rule is exposed to test conditions, it bends. Thus the ban on export of pulses from 27 June by notification was shifted back to 22 June by the DGFT on the grounds that the media reported the cabinet decision on the earlier date. The exporters with firm contracts backed by an irrevocable letter of credit went to the Delhi High Court asking for the invocation of the clause in Foreign Trade Policy which protected binding commitments before a policy change. The Court rightly held that DGFT was wrong in shifting the date back to 22 June since it had not authority to do so under the law. However the two judges in the bench refused to give direct relief to the LC protected exporters on the ground that special circumstances like price rise in pulses could be considered by the government for denying the benefit of contract protection.

The ball is now in the court of the DGFT, it must choose the point of trade off between consumer interest and the rule of law. The traders say that the new pulses crop is coming on the market one month from now in October, the domestic and import market supplies will improve to bring down the prices, the law of the land must not bend merely because of ups and downs in the market. In any case, the court has held that the DGFT action of back date amendment is ultra vires and hence the notification should be withdrawn forthwith in the true spirit of the court judgment.
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