COVID-19 brings home the lack of a meat industry and the hypocrisy behind it

Meat self-sufficiency at 44.95 percent in 2019 as 4,323.89 MT was imported

Although Bhutan has the highest consumption of meat per capita in South Asia, however, there is no viable meat industry in the country largely due to the social and religious norms of eating meat.

The hypocrisy was always there but it was covered over by imported meat. COVID-19 has made that an impossibility as import of raw meat is banned with only frozen and processed meat import being allowed.

The Chief of Livestock Department, Towchu Rabgay, said that internal production of meat is not happening since there a social stigma and religious norms that prohibits the slaughter of animals for meat. It also seems that most people do not want to acknowledge the part of the process from where the meat comes.

“We provide help to the farmers with any requirements, however, the main challenges is social stigma and religious norms. People simultaneously dislike hurting animals but like eating meat,” he said.

He said that people are allowed to do any kind of livestock related business, such as poultry, piggery and fishery. The government provides technical support to any farmer who wants to run the livestock business.

“The government doesn’t have the authority to stop or promote meat production, but if anyone wants to come up with such a business, the government will provide the technical assistance,” he said.

He said that there is a shortage of meat since there is a limited production of meat in the country. There is also an issue with the steady supply of animal feeds.

“When it comes to dairy product, a farmer needs a vast land for pasture but still they are managing with other feeds like Karma Feeds. And in terms of pork, piggery business is mostly done by the people living in the south, whereas in the west and east, people do not carry out such businesses.”

He added that animal rescue groups or Semchen Tsethar Tshogpas are actively buying out whole livestock farms.

“We had several farms in the past, like we had a piggery farm in Punakha, but somehow the Semchen Tshethar Tshogpa rescued all the pigs, and the farmer had converted the farm into other businesses.”

A meat vendor based in Thimphu said “Many people enjoy eating meat, but a few want to kill other sentient creatures. These inconsistent beliefs create a ‘meat paradox’. If farmers turns into butchers then the people ostracize them, but these people don’t mind eating meat.”

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said that the government cannot encourage the people to produce meat in a Buddhist country, and so the government does not have the authority to stop or promote the meat production.

“By the constitutional right, if there is someone who is willing to make a living out of meat business then the government has no right to stop them. So we cannot stop the local meat production,” the Agriculture Minister said.

As per the Livestock Statistics 2019, there are 302,589 cattle, 20,070 pigs, and 1.29 million poultry in the country.

1,113.382 MT of pork was produced while beef production was at 487.902 MT. And 1,926.386 MT of chicken was produced. Fish meat production saw 209.275 MT while 141.381 million eggs were collected in the country.

According to Food Self-sufficiency Ratio 2019 report, 4,323.89 MT of meat was imported while export was zero. 3,530.04 MT of meat was produced in the country. Total consumption was 7,853.65 MT.

According to Food Self-sufficiency Ratio 2019 report, an analysis on the self-sufficiency ratio revealed that eggs self-sufficiency continued to be 100 percent, as there was no import of eggs. However, self-sufficiency of dairy was at 92.29 percent, and meat self-sufficiency is at 44.95 percent and that of fish (fresh, dried and fillets) at 17.61 percent, while fresh fish SSR was recorded at 26.10 percent.

Currently, there are 19 livestock government farms in the country. Four poultry farms in Sarpang, Paro and Mongar, two piggery farms in Gelephu and Mongar, two fishery farms in Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar, one brown Swiss cattle farm in Bumthang, one calf rearing centre in Chhukha,  two Mithun breeding farms in Arong and Zhemgang, one goat farm in Samrang, one horse breeding farm in Bumthang and two sheep breeding centers in Bumthang.

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