India to test 'illegal' beef exports

Rescued cattle are seen at a "goushala", or cow shelter, run by Bharatiya Gou Rakshan Parishad, an arm of the Hindu nationalist group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), at Aangaon village in the western Indian state of Maharashtra February 20, 2015. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Hindus, who comprise 80% of India's 1.2bn population, consider cows holy

India plans to set up laboratories at ports to test for illegal beef exports amid controversy over the lynching of a Muslim after rumours that he ate beef.

Most states ban the slaughter of cows, which is considered a sacred animal by India's majority Hindu community.

However, the killing and consumption of buffaloes is largely allowed, and the meat is very similar to beef.

The beef ban has provoked outrage, with many questioning the government's right to decide what is on their plate.

It has also been criticised by many as beef is cheaper than chicken and fish and is a staple for the poorer Muslim, tribal and Dalit (formerly untouchable) communities.

Junior Agriculture Minister Sanjeev Kumar Balyan told reporters that the laboratories would add an extra level of checks for illegal beef passing through ports, with all meat exports strictly regulated by the government.

"It has been decided to set up labs at ports to check illegal export of cow meat," Mr Balyan was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

The checks will mainly focus on the western city of Mumbai, which is the main exit point for India's meat exports.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government has come under increasing pressure from Hindu hardliners to do more to protect cows.

Last month 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was killed by a Hindu mob over rumours that his family had been storing and consuming beef at home. His 22-year-old son was seriously injured in the attack and is recovering in a hospital.

Despite the slaughter of cows being widely banned, India ranks as the world's top beef exporter thanks to buffalo meat exports, according to a report by the US Department of Agriculture.

It is expected to export 2.4 million tonnes of beef in 2015, against Brazil's 2 million tonnes.

Reports say there are nearly 1,700 slaughter houses in India, mostly in northern Uttar Pradesh state and Maharashtra in the west.

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