The proposal to ban cattle slaughter will have a ripple effect on dairy, leather tanning and footwear as well as leather goods industries while breeding an underground economy of illegal slaughter and trade that will foster animal cruelty, researchers warned this week. The Cabinet in October approved a bill to amend laws to ban cattle [...]


Cattle slaughter ban: Intention may be good but consequences dire, say researchers


The proposal to ban cattle slaughter will have a ripple effect on dairy, leather tanning and footwear as well as leather goods industries while breeding an underground economy of illegal slaughter and trade that will foster animal cruelty, researchers warned this week.

The Cabinet in October approved a bill to amend laws to ban cattle slaughter. From the outset, it may seem that the policy is well-intended, says Sathya Karunaratne, a Policy Research Analyst at Advocata Institute, and Pravena Yogendra, an Associate Research Analyst at JB Securities, in a joint paper.

“Alleviating animal suffering is a noble cause that many Sri Lankans would identify with,” they note. “Unfortunately, even well-intended policies have unintended consequences. In the case of a cattle slaughter ban, the consequences can be dire for the livelihoods of thousands of people.”

According to the Department of Census and Statistics, 117, 033 farmers raised cattle and/or buffalo locally and 56,984 farmers raised improved cattle and/or buffalo in 2020. The Livestock Statistical Bulletin reveals there were 296,111 cattle farms and 26,284 Buffalo farms registered in 2020.

“The cattle rearing industry does not exist in isolation, nor is it sustained to nurture the beef industry alone,” the researchers say in a paper released this week. “The dairy industry sells unproductive cattle, where 50 percent of the animal is salvaged as beef and other parts are sold as raw material to other industries such as the leather tanning industry, etc. Therefore, a cattle slaughter ban would have consequences on all these sectors.”

The Government’s intention in banning cattle slaughter is to increase dairy production and local agriculture as reported by the media. Central Bank data in 2020 shows annual milk production from cattle to be 414mn litres and 78mn were from buffalos. In the same year, Sri Lanka imported over 102.3mn kgs of milk and milk products, and exported just above 1mn kgs.

To keep this dairy industry running, milk producers need to get rid of unproductive cattle. In 2020, 162,000 cattle were legally slaughtered. Interviews with leading industry stakeholders revealed that the cattle population amounted to 1,628,771 in 2020 and can grow up to three times within ten years if the slaughter ban goes ahead, Ms Karunaratne and Ms Yogendra predict. Seventy-five percent of them will count to be “unproductive”.

“The costs of maintenance will therefore evidently be unbearable,” they say. “These cost increases, if they can be sustained at all, will be passed on to consumers as price increases in milk.” The latest available data shows that beef production in 2019 amounted to 29.87 metric tons.

Smallholders dominate the livestock industry. For example, a 2019 study by the University of Peradeniya revealed that among private dairy farms in the country about 95% are small scale producers, the researchers write.

“While cattle farming in Sri Lanka runs on narrow margins, a significant contribution of the marginal profits comes from the sale of these animals to the beef industry,” they observe. “Dairy farmers make an annual lifetime profit of around 30 percent from the sale of an animal. Therefore, small farmers who raise cattle individually for an additional income will be severely impacted by the ban. They will not be able to afford the additional maintenance costs of unproductive cattle and will have to halt their small scale business operations.”

Banning cattle slaughter with the intention of increasing dairy production therefore is contradictory as it proves to be counterproductive. As illustrated above the milk industry can barely sustain itself without the beef industry.

A slaughterer purchases an animal for around Rs 300 per kilogram live weight. (Live weight ranges from 300-500kg). The leather tanning industry sources raw material from cattle slaughter. A slaughtered cow yields 15-16 sq ft of rawhide which is bought by the leather tanning industry at Rs 45 per kg. Domestically-tanned leather is sold to the footwear and leather goods industry as raw material at Rs 175 per kg as opposed to imported tanned leather priced at Rs 250 per kg (US$1- 1.20).

“Moreover, discussions with the industry revealed that about 60% of leather needed to produce affordable footwear is produced domestically and banning cattle slaughter will directly impact the accessibility of affordable footwear by the middle and lower-income earners of the country,” Ms Karunaratne and Ms Yogendra have found. “Further, more than 60% of the footwear and leather goods industry consists of micro and small businesses. Therefore, this policy measure will indeed hamper their access to affordable raw material and their very sustenance.”

Buddhasasana, Religious, and Cultural Affairs Ministry Secretary Kapila Gunawardana has said the Government is discussing the possibility of exporting ageing cows that will not be slaughtered owing to the ban.

“However, exporting aged live cattle is challenging as there is a high probability of international markets being reluctant to purchase cattle exposed to infections in the process of transportation,” the researchers say. “With the increase of idling cattle, the Government will have to invest to build new cattle salvage farms ensuring adequate veterinary facilities and daily feed.”

The National Livestock Development Board has only two salvage farms in Kurunegala and Anuradhapura with a combined capacity of 1,000 animals at a time. About 400 cows are legally slaughtered per day.

“As aged cattle require high maintenance costs with no return on investment, this will be an added strain on Government expenditure given Sri Lanka’s current limited fiscal space and precarious economic conditions,” they point out. “This will also clash with limited agricultural land available in the country leading to a serious threat to crops.”

With the local beef industry coming to a complete halt, domestic production and importation of alternative sources of protein such as chicken and fish will have to increase, meeting domestic demand and ensuring affordability for the average consumer. The prices of these alternatives have already experienced a steep increase.

According to the Department of Census and Statistics weekly retail prices, 1kg of fresh chicken that cost Rs 558.93 in November of 2020 costs Rs 727.27 now. Further, 1kg of salaya that cost Rs.252.67 in November of 2020 is now priced at 291.67.

Moreover, a flat out ban on cattle slaughter will breed an underground economy of illegal slaughter and trade. This will foster animal cruelty as the industry will not come under the purview of welfare authorities, creating the environment for low-cost slaughtering techniques defeating the very moral grounds of a cattle slaughter ban.

And banning cattle slaughter with no ban on beef consumption allowing for beef imports will only shift the burden of slaughter elsewhere. “This is hypocritical as cattle will still have to be slaughtered abroad, for the consumption of Sri Lankan people,” Ms Karunaratne and Ms Yogendra assert.

“It is evident that even though a slaughter ban may sound ideal in theory, it springs a chain of unintended economic consequences hampering the dairy, beef and other related industries paving the way for further price increases and posing a threat to business operations,” they caution. “Therefore, it is clear that when making economic decisions it is paramount to look at policies in terms of incentives they create rather than blindly pursuing a goal.”

“This simply means that immediate and long term consequences matter more than intentions,” they conclude. “Economic policies therefore must strive to go beyond intentions crafted by hopes and inspiration. Failure to do this will certainly lead to disastrous outcomes for the whole nation.”

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