Beef bans and policymaking

Thursday, 10 September 2020 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Public attention has been transfixed by the possibility that the Government may ban the slaughter of cattle, after Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa laid the proposal before the Government Parliamentary Group and received approval on Tuesday. However, there are many concerns about the Government’s policymaking that rise from the contradictory and complicated nature of this proposal. 

Many have pointed out that the proposal was deliberately placed to distract from controversial Parliamentarian Premalal Jayasekera being sworn-in by the Speaker. Distraction tactics are useful and no Government has shied away from using them, and there is no doubt that the Government benefits from having Jayasekera occupying his seat in Parliament, as it strengthens the two-thirds majority, which will be on display when the 20th Amendment needs to be voted into law, but there are also other socioeconomic aspects to the proposal. 

The deeply divisive and anti-Muslim rhetoric that has swept into the political space undoubtedly has a role to play in this proposal. If animal rights was at the core of this decision, all the Government had to do was dust off the Animal Rights Bill that has been ready for years, and enter it into the order book. There are many animals that are suffering in Sri Lanka, including other farmed animals such as chickens and pigs. 

There are also millions of street dogs in the country, and thousands of other dogs that are regularly abused and tortured, not to mention elephants. Just this week, the Government had to respond to appeals for Police to stop auctioning sniffer dogs, after the plight of one sold recently was shared widely on social media, prompting the Defence Secretary to order a suspension of the unsavoury activity. But there is no indication of how they will house and care for senior dogs, who could very well live several years after their retirement. 

Giving cattle precedence over all these other animals makes no sense, so the Government will find it difficult to justify a beef ban on this basis. The Prime Minister’s proposal also makes no sense, given other policies the Government has championed since it came to power. In May, the Cabinet approved the import of 2,500 dairy cows to boost the local production of milk products, and has pledged to support the industry through other measures, including setting up a stud farm. But this is impossible to do without generating a corresponding beef industry. 

The Government has also said that it will boost all local manufacturers, but under this measure the leather industry will be left out in the cold. Even more mindboggling is the fact that beef imports will be allowed, which means that cattle being slaughtered in another country does not affect Sri Lanka’s moral standards, nor will reserves be affected by potential imports. The entire scheme has more holes than a sieve, and seems impractical to a degree as to seem farcical, but people long-familiar with Sri Lanka’s propensity towards the absurd will not wish to make a hasty judgment. 

Government regulation cannot be made with narrow goals in view, and they cannot encroach on the economic freedom of citizens. It would be far better for the Government to introduce and implement comprehensive animal welfare legislation, rather than to attempt making policies that will only create more difficulties and controversy.