To Beef, To Buff, or To Bluff Is the Question

Posted by Dev Baul - 21/01/22 at 06:01 pm

A shop selling  fssai  certified Buff and Beef somewhere in India, circa 2021


 Statutory disclosure – I am no beef/buff eater though I do partake of Beefeater occasionally. Also, I do believe that Indian citizens should be free to eat any animal meat that can be bred.



The three industries viz. Dairy(8 Mn), Leather(4 Mn), and Buff Meat(2 Mn) dependent on bovine livestock employ 14 million Indians, roughly 1% of the population.


·      India is the largest producer of milk and milk products accounting for 15-20% of the world’s production. From a milk-deficient country in the 1960s,  India has come a  long way to be where it is today.


·      In leather, India ranks amongst the top five leather and leather-goods producing countries and most of the raw material is bovine hide.


·      India has been amongst the top 3–4 beef(Carabeef) exporting countries accounting for 10-15% of the total world beef consumption. As per current regulations, the only bovine meat that is allowed for export is buffalo meat aka  Carabeef or Buff(India and Nepal usage).


In India, we have been hung up on cattle for long. The Constituent Assembly found it expedient to include it in the directive principles and subsequently some states have enacted laws to make cow slaughter a punishable offense. In the last 7-8 years, new terms like Go-Raksha and mob-lynching have come into public discourse.


But how are the three industries doing, given this legal framework, the political rhetoric, and the extra-judicial vigilantism? Let us look at some numbers.


Cattle-Buffalo poulation

Unlike the human census, the livestock census in India takes place every five years. From the data, we find that the total bovine population has increased from 198 million in 1951 to 302 million in 2019. While in the same period cattle numbers have moved from 155 million to 193 million(24% increase), buffalo numbers have moved from 43 million to 110 million(153% increase).

Also, we find the cattle to buffalo ratio has moved south from 3.58 in 1951 to 1.75 in 2019. This ratio is declining steadily,  not because of cow slaughter but because it makes less economic sense to breed cows than buffaloes. Milk yield is way higher for buffaloes. Secondly, for buffaloes there exists an exit route at the end of economically useful life. For cows, the only exit route is abandonment on the roads.

One would think that with stricter laws and extra-judicial vigilantism the bovine(cattle plus buffalo) numbers would go up substantively. But in the period 2012–2019, the numbers have risen marginally from 300 million to  302 million.

Though the constitution or the state-enacted laws do not proscribe buffalo slaughter for the leather industry, the uncertain and vicious air of lynching has led to the closure of even licensed abattoirs and thus a shrinking supply chain for the leather industry. For the first time, India had to import hides to keep its shoe-uppers and leather factories going. The moot point is that Go-rakshaks and I, both need to protect their feet with shoes necessarily made from bovine hide and they will not know whether it is made from cattle hide or buffalo hide.

So, two of the three labor-intensive industries and their workers, dependent on bovine livestock are facing a bleak future. The government’s aspirations for these export-oriented industries and the policy pronouncements/interventions are contrary and counteractive. While the government wants these industries to grow to ease the balance of payment situation, its political compulsions force it to overlook the extra-judicial vigilantism that has created a distrustful and dysfunctional society.

Article 48 of the Constitution is purposed for the welfare of one named species viz Bos Indicus (Indian cow/cattle). The constituent assembly saw merit in separating the economy from the religion and accordingly, they excluded bovine animals other than the Indian cow (Bos Indicus)  from the non-slaughter list. But the government has effectually left the implementation of this policy/law in the hands of go-rakshaks who choose not to make a distinction between cattle and buffalo products. This ostrich-like head-in-sand attitude of the government has led to a governance paralysis in the bovine economy.

Bluffing about beef/buff is more politically rewarding than implementing Article 48 in right earnest. Sadly, it is devastating for the economy and society at large.


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7 Responses to “To Beef, To Buff, or To Bluff Is the Question”

  1. Aali Pant says:
    January 22nd, 2022 at 12:29 am

    Wow. What great insights and wonderfully researched and concise article. The vigilantism frenzy culture that is gradually going out of hand, has created a scary society, both for people and their jobs.

  2. Dhruva Sen says:
    January 22nd, 2022 at 6:40 am

    Very well written and substantiated by research and data. There is a huge economic cost as well in not having an exit route for Cows. We not only have killed the leather industry, which provided us precious foreign exchange but also allow the Cows to destroy crops. No wonder farmers are locking the cows in the newly constructed toilets, which are anyway not used. Few Gaushalas have been constructed at huge costs.

    All this gives the current dispensation political mileage and of course that is the only aspect which matters.

    This is the price we are paying for having the kind of leaders we have today. Worse, we eulogize them. India certainly has a long way to go.

  3. Debabratha Banerjee says:
    January 22nd, 2022 at 11:00 am

    Brings fresh, unbiased, perspective to an area often confounded by the present rhetoric. The only gainers are the politicians propagating it, and losers the gullible.

  4. Sunil Sehgal says:
    January 22nd, 2022 at 4:06 pm

    Well researched. It time Govt had a pragmatic rethink rather than unproductive rhetoric.

  5. Sunil Sehgal says:
    January 22nd, 2022 at 4:07 pm

    Well researched. It time Govt had a pragmatic rethink rather than unproductive rhetoric..

  6. Sudipto says:
    January 23rd, 2022 at 9:23 am

    Well researched article. The go rakshaks have always been there in this country but never encouraged into the mainstream. The present government has emboldened them and encouraged them to become violent and even kill in the name of saving cows.

  7. Ramprasad G says:
    January 24th, 2022 at 5:25 pm

    Superb analysis with well researched data. All going waste due to political expediency. There have been other such reports which have clearly brought out as to how this politically driven policy is counterproductive not only to the economy but the very cows it claims to protect.

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