Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) had pledged that it would close the ‘Samrang meat processing project and turn it into a commercial vegetable venture,’ under its list of cultural pledges.
It was also listed as one of the 25 pledges in the first 120 days of the government.
However, this pledge is not happening after realization within the new government that Samrang is not a slaughter house, or a meat processing plant for that matter.
The party now says that its pledge to close the Samrang project was removed from the manifesto following the instruction from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) after it submitted its manifesto to the commission.
The Foreign Minister and government spokesperson Lyonpo (Dr) Tandin Dorji said, “When we submitted our manifesto to the election commission, the commission instructed us to remove our pledge to convert Samrang project into a mega vegetable farm because Samrang is not a slaughter house or meat processing plant.”
However, he said, “We are determined to start mega vegetable farm which will serve as a training ground for our farmers across the country”.
The Minister for Agriculture and Forests, Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said, “There were lots of fake rumors on social media saying Samrang project is a slaughter house or meat processing plant but we came to know that it is not a slaughter house only after joining the ministry and studying deeply about the project”.
Lyonpo said, “It is focused on aiming at self-sufficiency through dairy products and eggs and distribution of fingerlings and pullets”.
The Agriculture Minister also said, “On Samrang project, the government has invested quite heavily and the project is not implemented by the ministry but the project is managed by the State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) called Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation (BLDC)”.
Lyonpo said, “The moment Samrang project was conceptualized, I think there had been a lot of confusion and the government perhaps did not clarify this publicly. Had there been information shared on the project, there won’t be misunderstanding among the general public that the Samrang project is a slaughter house.”
He pointed out that with the previous government concerns had been raised by the monastic body and they were not aware as to what kind of bilateral agreement had taken place between the previous government and the monastic body.
However, Lyonpo said, “Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa did not have very strong point saying that Samrang is meat processing unit and we will convert that to mega vegetable farm but what DNT pledged was that if Samrang project is a meat processing plant, DNT will convert it into mega vegetable plant to ensure that there is no slaughter of animal in the country.”
“As a party we do not have the opportunity or accessibility to go to Samrang project and verify whether it is really a meat processing plant”, he added.
He also said, “Now finding that it is not a meat processing project, there is no reason why DNT should be diverting that. So things like dairy cow, goat dairy farm and organic farm feed will progress as it is.”
The DNT Manifesto had said that it would respect and heed the appeal of the Zhung Dratshang, various religious organisations, life-saving (tsethar) groups and vegetarian tshogpas to abandon the‘Samrang meat processing project.’
The DNT said that it will ensure that plans to establish slaughter houses in the country is discouraged and that Bhutan will not be used to process meat for export to neighboring countries.
It promised to convert the existing Samrang project into a mega- vegetable farm, which would enhance employment and boost income of the people.
While DNT now says that the ECB asked it to remove the Samrang pledge from its manifesto, its online version of the manifesto which was available on its website had the Samrang pledge on it.
The former government in multiple interviews to the media had said that Samrang is not a meat processing plant or a slaughter house but only a center to promote dairy cows, dairy goats, eggs and fingerlings.
The current Opposition Leader Dr Pema Gyamtsho had even personally visited Samrang to verify the matter and he had put up pictures and a post on his facebook account in June 2018 saying that Samrang is not a ‘mega slaughter house,’ and that it instead had dairy farms for cows and goats, fingerling ponds and a commercial poultry.
The post subsequently was deleted by the Opposition Leader though he did not retract his statement.
The Samrang issue is a reflection of the rise of a vegetarian movement in Bhutan with mainly religious overtones. Its mention in the DNT Manifesto was an attempt at deriving political gain from the issue.
Bhutan still imports the majority of its meat and dairy products with it reaching Nu 2.8 bn in 2017 making it one of the biggest contributors to a growing trade deficit.