Indian buffalo meat exports plunged more than 10 percent in April, new trade figures show, with traders blaming a campaign to protect cows for undermining its position as one of the world's top beef suppliers.
Buffalo meat shipments dropped 11.4 percent in April, data released this week showed, denting profits for a $4.8 billion export industry that has been hit by a sustained crackdown on abattoirs and traders.
India does not export beef from cows, which are considered sacred by Hindus and whose slaughter is banned in many states. But it is the world's largest exporter of buffalo meat, which is also classified as beef.
Buffalo meat businesses have however been caught up in a renewed drive to prevent cow slaughter. Hindu hardliners have long alleged that abattoirs -- largely run by Muslims -- cover up the slaughter of cows and pass the meat off as buffalo.
Businesses in Uttar Pradesh, the top meat-producing state, have been hit with inspections and closures.
The crackdown -- spearheaded by the state's Hindu-rightwing government -- swept up not just unlicensed butchers but major exporters, who were forced to stop taking orders and cancel shipments as their businesses were shut.
‘India has been the largest exporter of meat but after this drop it's quite possible that it has lost that place,’ Fauzan Alavi, spokesman for the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association, told AFP.
‘Crackdowns have added to the cost and that makes it less attractive to buyers.’
Traders are bracing for further pain. The national government led by the Hindu-rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party imposed a nationwide ban on the sale of cattle -- including both cows and buffalo -- last month.
The blanket prohibition caused outcry and has already been challenged, with a court in southern India temporarily staying the ban.
But it is expected to further curb exports. The All India Meat Exporters Association is calling for the ban to be lifted or at least amended to exclude buffalo.
‘We're all hit. International buyers aren't placing orders and we aren't placing orders because we don't know if we will have the meat supply to deliver,’ said DB Sabharwal, the association head, whose own company has seen a nearly 40 percent drop in sales in recent weeks.
The slaughter of cows is illegal in many Indian states, with some imposing life sentences for transgressions.
Rumours of cow slaughter can also spur communal violence between hardline Hindus and India's sizeable Muslim population, who dominate the abattoir industry.
Violence against Muslims and Dalits -- lower-caste Hindus who also eat meat -- accused of killing the holy beasts has risen in recent months.
Two Muslims were beaten to death last month on suspicion of stealing cows while another was killed by vigilantes for transporting dairy cattle by road in April.
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