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14 October, 2018 12:08:26 AM

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Too little red meat on Bangladesh platter

FAISAL MAHMUD
Too little red meat on Bangladesh platter

The scarcity of grazing land, dependency on smuggled livestock from a neighbouring country and the sorry state of slaughtering houses have made the sourcing of red meat a difficult task in Bangladesh.

The data of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows that only 4.0 kg of meat are consumed by a typical person in a typical year. This has made Bangladesh one of the least meat-eating countries on earth.

In comparison, a US resident, the biggest guzzler of animal flesh, consumes 120.2 kg of meat in a typical year, a staggering 30 times more than that of Bangladesh.

The per capita meat requirement of Bangladesh is 43.25 kg, but the availability is only 9.12 kg, indicating an almost 79 per cent deficit.

Because of the lack of purchasing power, the consumption came down to about 4.0 kg.

Nearly half of this meat consumption in Bangladesh is met from cows, followed by goats, sheep and buffaloes.

According to the latest available data of the government’s Department of Livestock Services, in 2016–17, the population of livestock in Bangladesh was 54.7 million, out of which, cows comprised of 23.9 million, goats 25.9 million, sheep 3.4 million and buffalos 1.7 million.

Now, for meat consumption, Bangladesh needs about three million cows, but the slaughterhouses of the country cannot source even one million cows from within the country. More than two million cows are smuggled from India to Bangladesh every year and most of the illegal trade takes place through the Indian border state of West Bengal.

Interestingly, this $600 million-a-year trade has flourished over the past four decades and has been considered legal by the successive Bangladesh governments.

Smuggling cows becomes an accepted practice

After achieving independence in 1971 through a bloody nine-month war, Bangladesh's founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman urged the Bangladeshi people to “drink milk, don't eat cattle”.

Historians say that he gave this call because, during the nine violent months preceding independence, the marauding Pakistani Army and its local collaborators had indulged in a mass-scale slaughter of the country's livestock, eating most of it.

Consequently, Bangabandhu found that due to the lack of draught cattle, cultivating large areas of the newly born nation became nearly impossible. Besides, the poor quality of the surviving livestock, the prevalence of disease and lack of veterinary services hit efforts to develop the domestic cattle population.

Meanwhile, neighbouring India, which had perhaps the largest cattle population in the world, had laws against the export of young, healthy cows. So, smuggling was basically the only viable solution to the problem.

As Bangladesh's population increased over time, so did the demand for cattle. There were huge spikes in demand immediately after the monsoons, which claimed thousands of animals across the nation, and just before the Eid-ul-Adha, when animals are traditionally slaughtered in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Indian officials, while aware of the situation, preferred to ignore it until the late 1980s, when the Indian central government ordered a crackdown on smuggling to indicate its displeasure with the military regime of President Hossain Mohammad Ershad, who stepped down following massive public protests in late 1990.

In 1991, newly elected Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, realizing that the Indian crackdown on cattle smuggling was impacting heavily on domestic beef and leather prices, decided to set up a dozen customs corridors along the border with West Bengal. These posts, which started operations from 1994, essentially legalized smuggling and also became a major revenue earner for the government.

Under this system, the smugglers take their cattle to the customs posts and declare them as 'seized' cattle of unknown origin. After paying a 'fine' ranging from Tk 800 (Rs 500) to Tk 1100 (Rs 700) per animal (depending on the size), they collect the cattle, which are then mostly sent to the slaughterhouses.

Of course, many other animals are simply traded across the border with the connivance of the Border Security Force (BSF) of India and the Border Guard of Bangladesh (BGB).

City slaughterhouses

As per unofficial data of the Bangladesh Meat Traders Association, about 40 per cent of the country’s red meat is consumed in the capital. In different kitchen markets across the capital, meats of about 5,000 cows and buffalos and 1,500 goats and sheep are sold on a daily basis.

The only permanent cattle market of the capital is located in the Gabtoli area. Cattle from different parts of the country as well as the smuggled ones from neighbouring India daily enter the city and are first taken to the Gabtoli cattle market. From there, the cattle traders sell their cattle to the meat traders.

Rabiul Alam, Secretary General of the Bangladesh Meat Traders Association told The Independent there were 5,000 meat shops across the capital just five years ago. Because of the soaring meat price and the small profit margin, about 3,000 of those meat shops have closed down in the last few years.

Besides, there is lack of slaughterhouses in Dhaka. As per the rule of the civic bodies, meat traders cannot slaughter cattle in any places they want. The cattle have to be slaughtered at designated places.

However, as there is a shortage of slaughterhouses, the meat traders in Dhaka hardly follow that law.

The Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) runs two slaughterhouses—one in Hazaribagh and another in Kaptanbazar—while the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) operates three at Mohammadpur, Mirpur 11 and the Gulshan Kitchen Market.

These five houses can at most slaughter about 600 cattle per day. The cattle slaughter time is divided into two four-hour shifts—one from 2am to 6am and another from 6am to 10am daily. The charges to slaughter a cow are Tk 70, buffalo Tk 85, and goat or sheep Tk 20.

The standards of the existing slaughterhouses run by the civic houses are far from satisfactory. Most of them suffer from insufficient space and inadequate lighting. They are clogged with waste materials and congealed blood from the previous day’s slaughter.

The abattoirs also lack cleaning personnel as well as veterinary doctors. Because of the absence of the latter, most of the cattle do not get vaccinated before being slaughtered, thus putting the quality of the meat people consume under the scanner. As per the Animal Slaughter and Meat Control Act of 1957, which still dictates the term and condition of animal slaughter in Bangladesh, a trained veterinary doctor is required to be appointed by the city corporation to monitor the slaughter and processing of the meat.

So, this practice of slaughtering and processing animals at the old slaughter house makes the meat susceptible infection and contamination that can eventually affect public health.

Is there any better plan ahead?

About the sorry state of city-corporation-run abattoirs, Alam said, “You have seen the condition of the established slaughterhouses of Dhaka, which caters to less than 20 per cent of Dhaka’s red meat need. The informal makeshift slaughterhouses in the kitchen markets of the capital are even in more sorry state.”

Alam said, despite their repeated requests, the city corporations have virtually taken no step in modernizing, repairing or increasing the numbers of slaughterhouses in more than a decade.

“The prices of red meat have increased in the last few years and this has put a dent in our business. But, I believe, if the city corporations take steps to establish more modern slaughterhouses, they will revive the red meat business in the capital.”

In 2015, the DNCC spent Tk 30 crores to establish a new modernized slaughterhouse in Mirpur 11. The slaughterhouse has separate chambers, a bio-gas plant to utilize the animal droppings and a rainwater harvesting plant to run the process in an environment-friendly and energy-efficient manner.

However, within two years, the modern slaughterhouse became old and putrid like the other slaughterhouses of the capital. DNCC Chief Veterinary Officer Lutfur Rahman admitted the sorry condition of the Mirpur 11 abattoir.

He said that the Mirpur 11 slaughterhouse was not spacious enough and that its main entrance was being used as a pathway by members of the Bihari community living in a camp nearby, making the access to slaughterhouse difficult.

“Yes. There are serious shortages of proper slaughterhouses in Dhaka. Our hands are tied as we lack both available space and budget. We have recently established a truly modern slaughterhouse in the Mohakhali kitchen market. It hasn’t been opened to the public yet. Once, it opens, it will be able to slaughter 200 cattle per day in a hygienic manner.”

EA

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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